In basketball, the first game back after any extended layoff can be difficult. Basketball is a rhythm game, so whether it's after an offseason, an All-Star break, or sweeping a playoff series; getting back into that rhythm doesn't always come immediately.
The San Antonio Spurs' loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday night was the first game back from a week-long All-Star break. As a result, bad basketball plays abounded. Over the course of this game, there were so many defensive breakdowns, turnovers, and badly missed shots that it was difficult not to just turn the game off.
Both teams were without their leading scorers, which just added to the awkwardness of the game. San Antonio held Kawhi Leonard out due to tightness in his left calf. Los Angeles' Blake Griffin, of course, was still out after breaking his hand on his equipment manager's face.
Their absences led to increased minutes for guys like Jonathon Simmons, Kyle Anderson, Rasual Butler, and Cole Aldrich. All of those players are fine enough, but if you have to ask them to carry the loads of Leonard and Griffin, even collectively, mistakes are going to be made.
Los Angeles shook off the cobwebs quicker in the first half, and they were able to throw in a few stretches of good play in the 2nd half, pulling away for most of the 3rd and 4th quarters. San Antonio cut the lead down midway through the 4th, but by then they had run out of gas, and Chris Paul slammed the door on any remaining hopes.
As frustrating as their bad play might have been, because of the layoff, and because of the injuries they're dealing with, it should be understood that this loss isn't a big deal. It might take a game or two to correct, but any issues San Antonio had versus Los Angeles (missing shots, less ball movement, etc.) are relatively easy fixes.
After a game like this, where next to nothing goes right, the last thing the Spurs need to do is sit around more. A film study might be necessary so they know what to concentrate on moving forward, but more than anything, the Spurs just need more game reps to get back to their usual level of play.
Given that they have only lost 3 games since Christmas, it shouldn't take long for their rhythm to return.
As luck would have it, San Antonio is on a back-to-back, and have a tune-up game with the Los Angeles Lakers to look forward to. They should be able to take on the lesser Los Angeles squad, even without Kawhi, and be just fine. After that, it'll be back to putting other teams in the blender and winning by a historical margin of victory in no time.
David West - 12 points on 4-6 from the field, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal
One thing Spurs fans are starting to notice is how West always brings his lunch pail. Even when the rest of the team struggles to put up points (as was the case on Thursday), he can be counted on to hit some midrange jumpers, box out, and bring energy. He's not the big scorer he used to be, but he's a constant, and that has so much value in such an unpredictable league.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
28 - Points scored by Chris Paul, on 9-18 from the field. He also had 12 assists and 5 boards. Paul is a freaking assassin. Every shot he takes seems to be a well-calculated dagger to the opposition's heart. After the Spurs had cut the lead to 5 in the 4th, he took the game into his own hands and made devastating shot after devastating shot.
20.2 - The number of points per game Kawhi Leonard is averaging on the season. The Spurs missed every single point versus Los Angeles. For as much as the Spurs try to have a balanced offensive attack, they rely on Leonard late in the shot clock or when they need a bucket. I know we often talk about how much his play means to the team, but his importance cannot be overstated.
3 - Shots made by LaMarcus Aldridge, out of 12 attempts. Man, Aldridge really knows how to pick when he's going to have a bad game. You might recall his stinker of a night against the Golden State Warriors a few weeks ago that led to him deleting his social media posts. Now, on another big stage, he has another bad game. Of course, this really doesn't mean much. A couple bad games (no matter who they come against) out of an All-Star caliber year isn't much to fret about, but his timing of doing these in games on a national stage is going to make things seem worse than they are.
- DeAndre Jordan caused so many problems for the Spurs' offense. I counted at least 3 or 4 times where he was able to just sit back in the paint and force San Antonio players to reconsider their shot selection simply because he was in the vicinity. When he's guarding posts down low, he's big and strong enough to force a pass out simply by walling up. Oh, and Jordan is also athletic and agile enough to come out and defend a guard for a couple seconds, and he erased any Spurs pick-and-roll flow.
- As I discussed above, Aldridge's bad game was badly timed, but it was understandable. The entire offense was off, and so he was too. That's just how it goes sometimes. The one issue, though, is that the Spurs acquired Aldridge to remedy that type of problem, not to have him fall victim to it. He was supposed to be the guy that they could dump it down to on a broken possession and still get points out of it. He's had stretches in some games where he does this, but it's not as reliable as it maybe should be. As Aldridge is still adjusting, Kawhi Leonard has blossomed into that role, thankfully. However, if the Spurs are going to make a deep run into the playoffs, they need to have multiple offensive threats in close games.
- I really love watching Jonathon Simmons play. He's always in attack mode, never lies down when his team is losing, and is never scared to try and score in the lane on somebody. When San Antonio was down almost 20 with less than 5 minutes left in the 3rd, it was Simmons who started making plays to try and ignite a run. He had a big layup in transition. He blocked a JJ Redick shot attempt. He drew a foul on Jordan and knocked down free throws. He doesn't have the prettiest game, but he gave the Spurs juice with some hustle plays, and that helped get them on a run that made the game competitive again.