In another “tale of two halves” type performance, the Spurs played just a couple of good quarters and walked away with a convincing win over a quality opponent. Though both squads were on the second night of a SEGABABA, the Spurs had just flown in from Denver, while the Clippers’ “away” game the night before was at the Staples Center as the visiting team playing the Lakers, which really doesn’t count.
Early on, it looked like the Clippers were the team that flew in late the night before. The Spurs jumped out to a quick 10 point lead as the Clippers looked listless early in the first quarter. With the help of 3 Clippers’ turnovers in the first 2 minutes, the Spurs found themselves with a double digit lead in just over 3 minutes of play. Though neither squad was hitting on all cylinders, the Spurs managed to both hang on to the ball and hit some shots while the Clips couldnt do either.
After their rough start, the Clips slowly but surely fought their way back into the game, pulling within 1 before the end of the quarter and taking the lead briefly mid-way through the second. Their democratic approach, with the scoring spread nearly evenly between the starters and the bench, forced the Spurs to defend all 5 positions on every play.
For the most part, the Spurs were up to the task. On the other end, they responded by riding their big man to the tune of 22 first half points. LaMarcus Aldridge was dominant, and largely on the back of his contributions, the Spurs headed into halftime at 56 apiece.
It didn’t last long, though. The Spurs opened up the second half much as they had the first, with a 14-2 run that put them in front for good. They were able to stretch the lead out to 24 points before coasting home to an 11-point win and a couple minutes of true garbage time.
Derrick White keyed much of the third quarter run, and finished as a game-high +26. Led by his defense at the point of attack, the Spurs outscored the Clippers 35-14 in the 8-and-a-half minutes he played in the 3rd quarter. He had 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and an assist in that stretch.
From there, the game largely had the feel of mop up duty, though the Spurs have a troubling tendency of taking their foot off the gas too early, which has already come back to bite them. They start running clock instead of running the offense, and in a league full of knock down three-point shooters, that’s a dangerous game to play.
It nearly happened against the Nuggets in San Antonio just a few nights prior, and this game had a dangerous feel to it for parts of the fourth. The Spurs continued to score just enough to keep the Clippers at bay, though, and pulled out their first win of the season on a SEGABABA.
- DeMar DeRozan threw it down in the first quarter. My goodness.
DmDr’s dunk is an eye-popping thing of beauty. pic.twitter.com/e1owStckMg— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 30, 2018
- LaMarcus finished with a new season high of 38 points and he got there with just 23 shots. It was an outstanding performance, especially one night after giving the Spurs 24 points and 7 rebounds in 38 minutes while defending one of the best big men in the league against the Nuggets. He has been utterly remarkable on both ends of the floor, carrying the offense at times and quarterbacking a resurgent defense that has dragged itself from 29th just 3 weeks ago all the way up to 19th.
- Rudy Gay has now missed his last 11 three-pointers, almost all of which have been either open or wide-open, per NBA.com. He had hit nearly 47% of his three-pointers on the season before this stretch and it was always unlikely that he was going to continue shooting so much better than his career average (34.6%), but given the change in his shot profile, it seemed possible that he would be at least a little better. That may still turn out to be the case, but right now his shot looks broken. His misses in this game were bad. He’s still pulling the trigger, though, so it will most likely sort itself out.
- The team as a whole has been struggling from three as well. In their last three games, the Spurs have made just 24 of their 82 threes. That’s just 29.3%. Amazingly, they still lead the league in 3-point % after that.
- Pau Gasol was active for the second straight game but didn’t play again. Given how well Jakob Poeltl’s been playing, there’s a lot to consider in terms of fitting Pau back into the rotation, but if he’s healthy, he’s going to play at some point.
- The Spurs are getting out into transition more. This game continued a trend from both contests against the Nuggets, where the Spurs actually get out on fastbreaks as often as the rest of the NBA. Per cleaningtheglass.com, the Spurs have started 15.8% of their possessions with a transition play over the last week, much higher than their season average of 11.6%, which is last in the league by almost a full percent.
- That’s mostly thanks to Derrick White, whose steals and heady play on the break have been crucial to winning 2 of the team’s last 3 games against two of the West’s best squads. He’s not quite taking over games, but his fingerprints are all over the runs the team has gotten in each of those contests. There’s a fairly obvious comparison for how he impacts games in such a wide variety of ways outside getting buckets, but we’re not going to make that comparison here. It’s a wee bit early to stretch that far, but the time for that conversation may be coming sooner than anyone expected.