A series for the ages like this one needed a dramatic ending. Jeff Ayres and Ekpe Udoh battling for a rebound in garbage time with one of the teams secured in their victory just wouldn't have done it. Of course there were clutch free throws involved. Of course a reputation as a choker was changed in a moment. The cumulative score for the series favored the Spurs by three points but games like this one are decided in a couple of minutes and the Clippers were consistently better on those times. Yet even before then this one had all the ingredients of an instant classic.
After losing a would-be clincher at home, a bad start would have indicated surrender. The champs showed early they were alive and well. Tony Parker was hitting shots and Tim Duncan looked great once again while the Clippers' defense seemed as permeable as their regular season defensive rating indicated. But this was not going to be a game in which a team gets separation early. As the bench checked in the Clippers starters begun to chip away at a lead that all but disappeared by the time had expired on the first quarter.
As the opening frame was ending we had our "star player has an injury scare" moment. Chris Paul had to go to the locker room with what was later revealed to be a hamstring strain with a little under two minutes left to go. For the rest of the way until he returned, both teams looked to be biding their time to see what was going to happen to him. Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin kept Los Angeles in it as the Spurs missed multiple opportunities to take advantage and get ahead. Paul returned halfway through the second quarter with the Clippers only down one.
He was clearly not at the peak of his powers but still managed to create eight points -- four by himself and four by assisting others -- while the Spurs' offense sputtered. Hacking DeAndre Jordan at the end of the quarter -- an undoubtedly smart strategy in that instance -- backfired in a predictable way, as Duncan didn't put a body on Glen Davis, who secured the rebound. Crawford hit a three that Diaw fortunately answered to in the last shot of the half and the Spurs were only down two at the break.
The question of whether Paul was going to be effective the rest of the way with his hamstring bothering him was answered quickly. He hit a three-pointer on his first attempt in the second half and went on to score nine third-quarter points. Parker poured in eight of his own to prevent Los Angeles from running away with it. J.J. Redick matched Danny Green's production on Duncan matched Griffin's. Manu Ginobili went to the line for three free throws near the end of the quarter on a controversial call with the game tied and hit two. Chris Paul banked in a buzzer-beating three-pointer to put his team up one going to the final period. Just that kind of game.
The Spurs gave the starters some rest and went small with the bench for a large stretch in the fourth. Manu Ginobili got vindication after a terrible first half with two three-pointers and Danny Green played bigger than he is, swatting a shot and poking the ball away from Griffin in the post. Duncan took over when he checked in but a couple of J.J. Redick three-pointers stripped the momentum from the Spurs. Then the last four minutes of the game went by in a blur.
The Spurs survived with offensive boards but missed chances in transition that the Clippers took advantage of. Duncan and Paul exchanged clutch free throws. Then, with eight seconds to go and the ball, the Clippers looked to Paul to win it for them. He delivered with a banked in runner over Green and Duncan.
The Spurs had one last chance. With one second to go, Pop set up a play for the tie. Because the ending wasn't dramatic enough, a clock operator made a mistake that enraged the entire Spurs organization, as even owner Peter Holt was shown complaining on the sidelines. When they finally got a chance at trying an alley-oop for Leonard, Matt Barnes, who came up huge in Game 7, made the game-saving play by getting to the ball before Leonard.
The title defense ended there, against a worthy opponent but sooner than it should have. A win against the Knicks or the Pelicans and the Spurs' fate might have been different. Yet as Pop said after the game, "we know how to win and we know how to lose." The Spurs have had as many crowning moments as heartbreaking ones. That's what happens when you are always in the mix. Hopefully next season they will be once again in a position to either feel unparalleled elation or the biggest of disappointments because it will mean they are still relevant, like they have been for over two decades now.
- There were a lot of great performances. Duncan and Parker combined for 47 points while Paul and Griffin got 51. Danny Green had five blocks. J.J. Redick had a great stretch, as did Manu Ginobili. No one played poorly enough to be singled out. It was just a fantastic game.
- While 13 points and 10 rebounds is a good line, Kawhi Leonard did disappoint a bit, especially following a quiet game 6. Leonard never had it going offensively from outside, which might have been a result of all the energy he spent on defense. We forget sometimes he's only 23 years old. Series like this one will help him continue to grow.
- There's never a single reason why a team loses but the missed opportunities in transition really came back to haunt the Spurs, especially one that resulted in an open three-pointer for Barnes with a little over two minutes to go. The Spurs were up three and had Parker hit the short jumper on the break, they would have gotten a little separation going into the final moments. Overall, the Clippers outscored San Antonio by 13 points on the break.
- We'll have plenty of time to dissect the game in the coming weeks. The most important thing right now is finding out what will happen with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Manu clearly has less left in the tank that Duncan but said his mind is not made up. Duncan will likely take some time to decide as well. Pop said he thinks they might be back. Let's hope he's right.
- Hats off to the Clippers. They are a fantastic team that is proving doubters like me wrong. They won fair and square and it will be very exciting to see their series against the Rockets, especially if Paul is healthy enough to be effective.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our friends over at Clips Nation but remember to be nice.
That's it for the recap team. Thank you for reading and we'll be back for the first preseason game of the 2015/16 season. Meanwhile, check back often because we'll have plenty of content during the playoffs and the offseason.