Blake Griffin, without a doubt, was the Clippers' best player tonight, and it wasn't even close.
Griffin, who has a reputation as a one-trick pony, was an absolute terror on the offensive end. He scored on fluid post moves with his back to the basket and on dribble drives, gracefully laying it in off the glass or by using the finger roll. He canned a few jumpers, including a three. He found the open man when doubled time and again and was a holy terror on defensive rebounds when he decided a handful of times to drive right down the heart of the floor at breakneck speed to draw fouls or dish it to wide open wingmen against a scrambling Spurs defense.
And yes, Griffin even had a few dunks on his way to a game-high 35 points, but none of the lob, alley-oop variety, and that goes a long way toward explaining why the Spurs started the stretch run of their regular season on the right note, with a decisive road win over the supposedly-contending Clippers.
If Chris Paul isn't the Clippers best player, then they're just another team. Soft on defense, mentally weak when it matters and utterly prone to self-combustion. First round cannon fodder, basically, for any serious team.
This isn't meant as an indictment of Griffin in any way. He's shown marked development in his game this season. He's extended his range on jumpers, improved his ball-handling and passing, refined his clunky and robotic post moves and gotten a lot more decisive and aggressive, almost as though he were a Pop disciple of the "make a decision within half-a-second" philosophy. Most of all, he's become consistent, both in the micro and macro sense. No more floating for random quarters or games. He's locked in and looking to inflict damage every minute he's on the floor.
The thing is, he is what he is, a guy whose size and relatively short wingspan limits what he can provide defensively. Worse, he just doesn't have the instincts or awareness to overcome his shortcomings and he constantly --perhaps subconsciously-- holds back from being aggressive in his own end for fear of foul trouble, knowing his true value lies as a scorer and that the Clips don't have much behind him in the way of quality bigs anyway.
Pair Griffin with DeAndre Jordan, a nice fellow who's among the league leaders in rebounds and blocks but lacks any sense whatsoever in how to defend the pick-and-roll, and it's a recipe for defensive disaster. Smart, patient teams that avoid careless turnovers can get all they want against the Clips inside or out.
The only antidote to this, against teams that matter anyway, is Paul. No, he's not much of a defensive stopper either, save for a few steals here and there, but as one of the two or three best point guards in the league he can affect the game in a multitude of ways, moving the other 12 pieces on his personal chessboard (including the three refs) at a whim.
When Paul is on his game he manipulates everything, sets up his wings for open threes on the break or the half-court, gets Griffin and Jordan all kinds of easy points and energizes the crowd with his alley-oop feeds. As a scorer he bides his time, like Isiah Thomas did, and takes over games down the stretch when he has to, bullying his way into the paint and drawing fouls --few intimidate the zebras as effectively as CP3-- and burying dagger threes when you least expect them.
Paul playing at an elite level is the only way the Clips can outscore good teams and outscoring people is the only way the Clips can win games because they sure as hell aren't gonna get stops consistently. Chris Dudley and Matt Barnes have been disastrous for them. Their bench is so horrid that Hedo Turkoglu is logging 10 minutes a night as the third big (-12 in 10:19 for the ex-Spur tonight, by the way) and Ryan Hollins gets run as the backup center. Even with J.J. Redick, who was out with a bad back, it's basically a six-man team, with that last asset being Darren Collison, who happens to play the same position as Paul, who happens to be their best player.
(It's not a good thing for your sixth-best guy to play the same position as your best guy and even less so when 7-12 stink.)
The last time the Spurs beat the Clips --which incidentally was the last time they had all their main guys healthy-- coach Gregg Popovich said afterward that the blowout win didn't count as the elusive and much-ballyhooed "signature win" because Paul was out with a sprained shoulder. He might as well have not played Tuesday night either, making 1-of-10 shots and doling out a pedestrian-for-him nine dimes.
Really, the game was much more reminiscent to one played almost a year ago to the day at the Staples Center, where the Spurs, who were grinding through injury issues during their Rodeo Road Trip, came out after the All-Star break and just pasted the Clips despite not having Kawhi Leonard. This game wasn't quite the throttling that one was, but for all intents and purposes the two were similar, with Patty Mills doing an excellent Tony Parker impersonation and the duo of Danny Green and the persistent, pesky Cory Joseph giving Paul fits.
Ultimately we can't know how much of Paul's struggles had to do with the Spurs and how much had to do with his bad shoulder. He looked reluctant to shoot the ball for much of the game and could've been fatigued from the weekend in New Orleans. All I know is he wasn't good and Pop is quite content to let Griffin play the role of this decade's Amar'e Stoudemire as long as Paul is diminished and the rest of their guys aren't raining threes.
Griffin can score as much as he wants. When Patty Mills is outplaying Chris Paul, they're no threat.
And the Clips are still not a "signature win."
Manu Ginobili looked rusty as heck in his first game back after missing eight with a strained hamstring, but that was to be expected. More encouraging to me was that of his three stints on the floor, the last was by far the best, with Gino driving for one layup and getting knocked ass-over-teakettle on a couple other drives to get to the line. He also procured a huge offensive board which drained 20 seconds off the clock late in the game and helped give the Spurs another couple points to extend their lead. That fourth quarter should serve as a confidence boost for Ginobili, provided that he's no worse for wear.
Most impressive aspect of the game for me was not only did the Spurs win going away on the road without Parker, Leonard and Tiago Splitter, but they did so despite the refs doing everything they could to keep the Clippers in the game. LA's 38-to-21 free throw advantage was a bit of a joke, particularly in regard to how Jordan was allowed to defend Tim Duncan, who didn't get any respect at all from the zebras. It's not much of a sample size, but so far Adam Silver's NBA looks a whole lot like David Stern's NBA.
Maybe the reason Griffin gets fouled harder than anyone in the league is because he's less respectful than anyone in the league, whether it's the referees or his peers. When you try to embarrass people by posterizing them on dunks --and habitually ramming your off-arm on their faces without a call-- then yeah, you can expect retaliation. It doesn't help Griffin's reputation any that he whines on EVERY. SINGLE. PLAY and stares down the refs on every non-call. The guy literally wants to go the line on every possession of the game. It's just so grating and tiresome. He shows up the refs and the opponent night after night and then wonders why he gets drilled now and again. He just doesn't learn.
Reffing a Clippers game with Griffin's antics, Paul's constant flopping and bullying and Crawford's annoying habit of kicking out his legs on shots to chase after his coveted four-point plays must be a nightmare.
Standard Duncan Quote:
"Down a couple of guys, not being able to practice yesterday, and to be able to come in here and put together a 48-minute performance like this was great for us. It was a big win for us, especially on the road against a very good ballclub."
By the Numbers:
19,257: The paid attendance at The Staples Center
18,257: How many of them were Lakers fans like two months ago.
9: Straight games of 25 or more points for Griffin.
26-for-43: The recent free-throwing stretch for the much-improved DeAndre Jordan, according to Clippers play-by-play man Ralph Lawler. Jordan promptly missed the next two freebies, including an air ball on one, though he did swish two after that when Pop went hack-a-Jordan.
9: Points for Mills in quarters 1-3.
16: Points for Mills in the fourth quarter.
20: Points for all the Clippers' reserves, combined.
14-of-24: Griffin's shooting night.
21-of-57: All other Clippers' shooting nights.
+19: A game-high, in 14:56 for Ginobili.
6-1: The Spurs record this season without Parker.
17-6: Their record the past two years without Parker.
11:05: Playing time for Shannon Brown.
0:00 Playing time for Nando De Colo. The hell?
Sequence of the game:
The Clips were up 50-44 with 2:44 to go in the first half after Griffin went on a mini-tear with a three, a coast-to-coast drive and dish to Jamal Crawford for another three and a layup and their crowd was getting ready to send their guys off with good vibes going into intermission when, out of nowhere, everything just clicked on for the Spurs. First, Joseph found himself unmarked on the offensive glass to clean up a Belinelli miss when Jordan and Griffin focused all their boxing-out efforts on Duncan and Diaw. Then, after Duncan rebounded an errant three from Paul, Green hit a pull up three from the wing in transition (the ultimate noooooo okay great don't do that again shot). Griffin made one of two from the line on the next trip down before Duncan drove easily around him for a layup on the other end and Green stole the ensuing lazy inbounds pass and scored on a twisting layup. Finally, on their last possession of the half the Spurs whizzed it around the perimeter and Mills shoveled it to Green in the corner for another three to go into the break up 56-51 while a stunned silent crowd thought to themselves, "Here we go again."
Tweets of the Night:
So neither the Spurs or the Clippers has a bench right now. Can these teams just player half court? Or 24 minutes or something?— Andrew A. McNeill (@drew_48moh) February 19, 2014
The Spurs had half a bench with Mills and Ginobili and would've had a whole one had they not had to start Diaw and Belinelli. The Clippers wouldn't have a full bench even if Redick was healthy.
Less than a minute back and Manu is already doing Manu things. Punches ball loose leading to Belinelli layup.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) February 19, 2014
I love Manu but I've seen him do a lot of Manu things over the years. How about some Durant things, to mix it up?
Clippers have posted up Paul on CoJo a couple times now. Look for him to keep at it as CP3 can bully his way around w/ his endless tenacity— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 19, 2014
1 FOR 10 TENACITY.
Shannon Brown with perhaps the worst individual possession of the season for the Spurs there. Dribbled for 10 seconds, terrible pass.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) February 19, 2014
Can't wait for the game thread a few years from now when we're like, "Hey remember when Shannon Brown was a Spur for like five minutes?"
Matt "Head on a Swivel" Bonner— Andrew A. McNeill (@drew_48moh) February 19, 2014
Bonner with a loose ball acts like he's swatting a way a pesky bee.
If Blake Griffin can bring the ball up in transition and distribute like that then the Clippers might as well trade Chris Paul.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 19, 2014
Yeah, I'm ready for the Clippers to be terrible again as per their custom.
Duncan with 15/11/5 already. Dude is not going anywhere, George Karl.— Ari Temkin (@arisports) February 19, 2014
Well, he's going to Portland.
already over limit and duncan in foul trouble spurs should just foul jordan now— Michael Erler (@MichaelErlerSBN) February 19, 2014
I successfully predicted hack-a-Jordan the possession before it happened. Naturally, he swished both and Pop stopped using it.
Including the, uh, Spurs.
Count me among those a bit mystified why Parker played in the All-Star Game if he's still hurt. According to Pop, "He had to," but that's a vague statement that could mean anything. Was the league forcing him to, or was it Parker's agents/endorsement people forcing it upon him for contractual reasons? Was this one of those decisions based on a player's "brand" or did the league deem that Parker had to be there because they hadn't been given enough notice to select a replacement?
I'm not sure what the league's rules are for the situation. I mean, I know that Kobe Bryant was at the game, but A) He probably felt he needed to wave for the fans since he was actually voted in and B) He's Kobe Freakin' Bryant. Parker was a reserve anyway, and Goran Dragic (who most people felt should've been on the team anyway) was already in town for the skills competition, so what would've been the harm in just scratching Parker?
Regardless of whether it was ultimately the league's call for Parker to play at 50 percent or his call, I don't like it one bit. It's one thing for guys to gamble on their health and long-term endurance by participating in off-season international tournaments and another thing entirely if they have to take risks with in-season exhibitions. I get that nobody was playing hard in the game and that Parker wasn't going to take any chances, but to me if you're not healthy enough to play the first game after the break then you have no business playing in the All-Star game.
I just want to know who's decision it was, Parker's or the league's, so I know who to be mad at.
Your Three Stars:
3) Danny Green (37 pts): He led the Spurs with 13 points in the first half and he scored eight of those in the final 1:37 of the second quarter to send the Spurs into the break with a lead, quieting down the crowd. His defensive swarming of Paul was impressive as ever and he had a Mills-esque in-bounds steal and lay-up which I rather enjoyed.
2) Tim Duncan (108 pts): Not the best shooting night for Duncan but his fingerprints were all over the win as usual. Took on a lot of the playmaking load with Parker out and held off Jordan and company on the boards at both ends. I thought the refs were pretty disrespectful of him the whole night and Jordan got away with a handful of fouls that could've really turned this game into a rout. Still, full credit to Duncan for playing in the post more than usual just because it was easier to facilitate the offense that way for everyone else.
1) Patty Mills (34 pts): I mean, what more can you say? Mills continues to price himself out of the Spurs' budget for next season night after night. He put on a superb Parker impression with 16 fourth quarter points, including the first 11 of the period when the outcome was in doubt and had a solid 5:1 assist:turnover ratio as well. Anytime Mills outplays CP3, I really like our chances.
Up Next @Portland Trail Blazers (36-17), Wednesday, Feb. 19: The Blazers have deservedly shoved their way into fringe-contender status with a very impressive and wholly surprising first half of the season, but they have lost four of their past six and eight of their past 12, including convincing defeats at Golden State and at Washington and a home blowout loss to Memphis. (They also lost close games at OKC, at Indy and at the Clips.) Even worse for Portland, LaMarcus Aldrige is expected to be out for a week with a groin strain, so I guess Parker wasn't the only dude playing hurt in the All-Star Game. As you're well aware, the Blazers have won 119 of their last 47 meetings with the Spurs, including 109-100 at the AT&T Center on Jan. 17 when Splitter and Green were out and Ginobili was the only guy who played remotely well, so I'd be thrilled with a win any way I could get it up there. You'd think the Spurs would be slight favorites without LMA, but honestly I have no idea who's going to play in the game. Will Pop ride Timmy after Duncan wrestled with Jordan for 38 minutes on Tuesday? Will he gamble with Ginobili on a SEGABABA coming off his hamstring injury? What about Leonard or Splitter? For all we know the latter two could start at Portland while the former pair sit it out. Pop is wacky that way. If Mills stays within ten points of Damian Lillard, I like the Spurs chances.
- Game Links: Spurs at Clippers
- Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Portland Trail Blazers
- Recap: Mills, Duncan lead Spurs to 113-103 win over Clippers in Manu's return
- Final Score: Spurs start second leg of RRT by silencing the Clippers, win 113-103
- Full Coverage: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers