Now that's more like it.
After a stretch of games where the Spurs have been winning but mostly carried by their two stars with perhaps just one or two more dudes contributing and everyone else along for the ride, they got a true team win against the despicable Clippers, with nearly everyone in the rotation* playing well.
The lazy storyline for the game is the contrasting halves in Chris Paul's performance between the first half, when he was at his sensational, terrifying best with 18 points and 7 assists, accounting for 35 of the Clippers' 44 points with primarily Tony Parker or Patty Mills attempting to defend him; and the second half, in which he scored 4 points on 1-of-5 shooting with one assist and two turnovers in 13:59.
Here's the thing though: It's a false narrative. As sensational a job as Leonard did on Paul --and a defensive adjustment where they steered him off screens toward the more laterally mobile LaMarcus Aldridge instead of Tim Duncan definitely helped-- that wasn't what turned the game. Jeff Green and J.J. Redick picked up the offensive slack and the Clippers outscored the Spurs 20-16 through the first 9:45 of the third quarter to tie the game 64-64 with "CP3" in there.
All heaven broke loose for the home side once Paul checked out for L.A. and Leonard exited stage left for the Spurs. Both squads soon went to all-bench lineups and San Antonio zoomed past with an 18-8 spurt over the following 5:32 with David West scoring six, Manu Ginobili five, Patty Mills five and Kyle Anderson two.
It's hard to put too fine a point on how dramatic the difference in the bench play between the two sides was. The finally tally ended up being 51-20 scoring wise, with some garbage-time points inflating both totals, but even that disparity doesn't do it justice. The reality is the Spurs second unit completely dominated their counterparts, and we've seen it now in both home against the Clippers this season. Remember, on Dec. 18 San Antonio trailed the Clips by three going into the fourth quarter, before their subs busted out with an 11-0 run to turn the tide.
"We try to make a push every time and of course you know when Chris is on the court that they're a different team, said Ginobili, the unquestioned leader of the bench, afterward before quickly adding "but many times, like last year, their second unit gave us some problems with Jamal [Crawford] running the show and hitting some tough shots. They play different, but they've been very successful too. Today we were, but I don't know if it's a tendency. It is with us sometimes, but other times we change games with Kawhi [Leonard] and LaMarcus [Aldridge]. Today it was us."
The bench gave the Spurs a cushion in the first half too, turning a 19-18 deficit late in the first quarter into a 31-22 lead over the subsequent 4:44 with Paul sitting. When he checked in with 8:43 remaining he was plus-10 in a game the Clippers were trailing by 10, and by then he and his fellow starters sure seemed to lose their spirit, realizing that was just too much ground to make up against an undefeated Spurs squad that had the wind at their sails.
What was particularly encouraging for the good guys is not only did they get outstanding play from the bench, with Ginobili (10 second half points) and Mills (15 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists in 23:29) especially standing out, but after a four-game cold spell from downtown, the team's three-point shooting finally regressed to the mean, as they nailed eight of their final 14 tries after another frigid 0-of-6 start. Perhaps Danny Green was buoyed by his go-ahead make in the fourth quarter against the Thunder after what had been an 0-of-8 night because he sank 4-of-5 against the Clips to help do them in. Ginobili and Mills hit a pair of triples each as well and ironically the one guy who was left wanting was Leonard, who was 0-of-3 from deep but 9-of-12 from inside the line, often bullying Redick, Crawford, Jeff Green or whomever Doc Rivers deigned to assign on him.
The Spurs ran away with a 37-17 fourth quarter in what had been a tight back-and-forth affair, but they seemed to have more offensive answers than L.A. could handle, and solving problems on that end of the floor won't get any easier for them once Blake Griffin returns to action, though certainly he'll complicate things offensively. As long as the starters can hang with their opposite numbers, the bench disparity should tilt playoff games in the Spurs' favor, with Rivers admitting that he'll likely have to ration the minutes differently or stagger his stars once the games count for real.
We'll have to wait and see if that match-up even comes to fruition. For now the Spurs have a couple more dress rehearsals against even better competition. The Warriors even have a couple of guys off the bench who can play.
(* The French guys)
Onto the highlights!
Duncan not only achieved another milestone, passing John Havlicek (who might be Pop's all-time favorite player), in career scoring, but he had a solid showing in limited minutes, scoring on a couple of tip-ins and making a couple of smart passes when Aldridge had smaller defenders buried in the post.
You know... I'm thinking this is gonna be it as far as passing up guys on the scoring list.
NBA all-time scoring list:— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) March 16, 2016
12. Dominique Wilkins - 26,668
13. LeBron James - 26,505
14. TIM DUNCAN - 26,397
15. John Havlicek - 26,395
Anyway, he's the student learning from the master.
Green just has no chance when Alridge is rolling like this.
It's like Tim's turnaround bank shot and Bobo's turnaround bank shot had a baby.
Paul isn't the only point guard who can take advantage of mismatches against bigs. You knew this was going up.
Patty Redick'd Redick!
Perhaps the best look you'll ever get at the winding path Mills has to take between pics to get an open thr... https://t.co/phAhvXtGNx— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) March 16, 2016
Kawhi are you guarding this beast with Wesley Johnson?
This doesn't seem sporting at all.
Better to be lucky than good but better still to be both.
Manu was into this one and looks like he's starting to regain his rhythm at just the right time.
"Beautiful Game" flashback!
Your Three Stars:
1. Kawhi Leonard
2. Patty Mills
3. Danny Green
Up Next: Vs. Portland Trail Blazers (35-33)
The Spurs get a chance to take a breath -- or perhaps walk right into a trap -- against a young, scrappy Blazers squad after two straight wins against potential second-round opponents and then the biggie "Game of the Millennium" against the Warriors on Saturday. If it seems like it's been forever since San Antonio, it's because it has been. They played them twice in a three game stretch in mid November, winning at Portland on Nov. 11 with Aldridge scoring 23 in his first game up there in visiting colors and then again at home on Nov. 16 with Ginobili going off in the fourth quarter. The Blazers are currently the sixth seed but have waned a bit of late playing a tougher schedule, just 5-5 over their last 10. They're only two ahead in the loss column over the ninth-place Jazz. The Spurs know full well when Damian Lillard gets hot he's as tough to stop as anyone, but he should be good practice for another jitterbug with unlimited range coming up.