The Spurs dropped Game 1 in Los Angeles 107-92 and trailed by as many as 20 points. They could not find an answer to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on defense and almost everything that could have gone wrong did on offense. Parker was bad. Green was as terrible as those home/road splits everyone keeps bringing up suggested he would be. Splitter was held to just 10 minutes for the whole game. All those factors, plus the very nature of the playoffs make reacting to this game viscerally almost irresistible, at least so soon after it's over.
Yet a closer look shows that it wasn't so much a bad loss as much as one brought about by atypical --and with a little luck, unsustainable -- circumstances.
Now, if sufficiently motivated anyone can find a silver lining in even the worst of blowouts. There's always at least something positive to take away and hold on to like a talisman. This is not one of those situations. The Spurs missed 12 free throws tonight and went 5-19 from beyond the arc in the first three quarters. Those numbers are so far below their normal percentages that can't be called anything but outliers. It's very, very unlikely the Spurs have such a bad shooting night from both areas again in the first round and, should they advance, the rest of the playoffs. It's only happened twice before in the postseason to them in the past five years.
Obviously the Clippers deserve a ton of credit for playing one of the best defensive games of their season. The missed free throws were not their doing, of course. They did had have a hand on the missed three-pointers, however, and more importantly, didn't let the Spurs make up for their poor shooting with easy buckets inside. DeAndre Jordan blocked or deterred close shots and Blake Griffin was as active on his own end as I've seen him in a while. He was able to lend a hand in the paint because Doc Rivers decided that the threat of Boris Diaw as a stretch big man was not credible. Turns out he was right, as Boris missed the five outside shots the Clippers dared him to take. Packing the paint was Los Angeles' strategy and with the Spurs missing three-pointers, it worked to perfection.
On defense the Spurs never looked comfortable. That's bound to happen when your opponent led the league in offensive rating and has two of the 10 best offensive players in the league. It's hard to separate the unforced errors from the ones Chris Paul causes. All the switching didn't help, as it didn't slow down the Clippers and created situations that demanded weakside help. The transition defense, a concern coming into the game, was infuriatingly bad at times. The Clippers pushed the ball and more often than not found someone open, as the Spurs' floor balance was lacking for most of the game and there were lazy moments in which someone in Silver in Black would jog back while his man was already down the court and in scoring position.
Yet even on that end there were things that can be seen as fluky. The Clippers are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league but they had eclipsed 50 percent from outside seven times all year before Sunday. It looked like Jamal Crawford couldn't miss, connecting on seven of his 10 shots. Crawford will have games like that -- it's the reason he's in the league. In the last four games since returning from injury he had shot below 30 percent, though. He single-handedly held together a bench lineup that would have doomed the Clippers otherwise. It's not crazy to say that almost everything went the Clippers' way on Sunday and not much worked for the Spurs.
That doesn't mean San Antonio is bound to win the next one. The Spurs shoot poorly on the road, so their troubles from outside might continue. Parker hasn't been great for a long stretch in a while and Diaw has never been the type of reliable volume shooter that will make a coach change his game plan. The Spurs will surely play better than they did on Game 1 but so could the Clippers, who got nothing from J.J. Reddick and only a momentum-changing, non-basketball related play from Matt Barnes.
There is a sense, though, that the next game won't be like Sunday's. From now on, these matchups will likely resemble the series we all thought we were going to see between a talented squad and a smart team that never does your work for you. If that happens, I still like the Spurs' chances.
- The Barnes play in the third quarter ignited a terrible stretch that basically killed the Spurs' chances. Paul did his thing, hitting buckets when they hurt you, and Blake Griffin went crazy with a couple of monster dunks. The Spurs had a chance to cut the lead at the start of the fourth quarter but Crawford hit shots to keep them at bay. Playoff games often come down to who plays better on a five-minute period and the Clippers took full advantage of a moment in which the Spurs lowered their guard.
- The Spurs missed some uncontested shots that really damaged their chances. Per NBA.com, they went 12-36 for 33 percent on shots in which the defender was at least 3.5 feet away. Diaw went 0-6 and Green 1-5 when open. Their struggles can't be attributed to the Clippers' defense.
- Aron Baynes had a nice first half before being on the wrong end of every important play in the third quarter. The situation with Barnes might have affected his focus but Baynes was late to rotate and simply not on point on defense. As good as the Big Banger has been this season, the Spurs still need Tiago Splitter available for more than 10 minutes a game to have a shot.
- I hate it when announcers like the Spurs' own Sean Elliott go on and on about how Kawhi Leonard needs to touch the ball in every possession. I couldn't help but agree during Game 1, though. The Clippers were doubling hard when Leonard was posting up, so it's understandable that he didn't take a lot of shots. But he's the one guy the Clippers cannot guard and the Spurs need to find ways to get him involved more often.
- I don't like Chris Paul. Never have, never will. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate how great he is. He had 32 points, six assists and a bunch of moments in which he looked a step above everyone else on the court in terms of talent and smarts. He's so wily in transition. He pushes the pace, slows down when the other team stops the ball and then, before they can really set up, boom. He pulls up from three.
He did it twice in this game and he does it often. It's such an uncharacteristic shot that it keeps catching defenses off guard. You'd expect Patty Mills to take this PUJIT three-pointer, not the cerebral Paul.
If Splitter returns, he should help the Spurs contain Griffin. It's harder to see a way to neutralize Paul.
- Tony Parker and Tim Duncan can play better. Parker's touch was off and by the time he got it back, he had hijacked a handful of possessions and missed some shots. Duncan did a bit of everything but wasn't assertive on offense and that sort of set the tone for the rest of the team. They'll bounce back.
- Manu Ginobili, meanwhile, was a three-pointer and some free throws away from an excellent performance, finishing the game with 10 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals. The Spurs need more from the Big Three but the loss is more on the role guys than anyone else, really.
The series will resume on Wednesday. Some of the Clipper players were visibly gassed, so the two days off will certainly help them. If those days allow Tiago Splitter to get in shape to play 20 minutes on Game 2, however, the Spurs will benefit the most from the scheduling.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our friends over at Clips Nation, and remember to be nice if you do.