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Spurs’ road woes continue in Los Angeles

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Drop to fifth in the playoff race

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The drama just doesn’t seem to end for the Spurs this season. With nearly a 20-point lead in the first half and a seven-point lead with less than half a quarter to go, the Spurs had their chances to put the Clippers away on the road, but couldn’t shut the door.

After jumping on the Clippers early, the Spurs took their foot off the gas late in the first half just enough for the Clippers to claw back into the game, and slowly the lead slipped through their fingers. Through a combination of so-so decision-making, some Lou Williams brilliance down the stretch, and unlucky officiating, the Spurs had every chance to sink the Clippers, but couldn’t.

Much the way he has all year, LaMarcus Aldridge acted as the anchor on both ends of the ball and was the best player on the floor for most of the night. With overwhelming size for the likes of Montrezl Harrell and Tobias Harris and the skill to draw Deandre Jordan away from the hoop, Aldridge’s fingerprints were all over the game. He was counted on to get buckets for all night long, he was the rim protector, and he battled hard for the boards. Even though he didn’t see the ball down the stretch as much as he should have, his two-way play was almost enough to get the W. Aldridge is the engine behind everything the team wants to do, and that won’t change come playoff time.

Off the bench, Rudy Gay played a big role in Tuesday’s game, providing reliable scoring, rebounding, and defense. Gay has continued to round into shape as an important isolation scorer off the bench, and against a somewhat undersized Clippers squad, he was able to consistently get to spots on the floor where he could get solid looks or good positioning for offensive rebounding. After looking like a shell of a shell of himself after returning from a heel injury, Gay has perked up lately and has begun to figure out where he can be most effective with the Spurs. Does he settle for impossibly difficult jumpers? Of course. Does he make enough of them for it to not be a huge deal? Probably. Rudy is Rudy.

Bryn Forbes also provided a big boost off the bench. After initially looking like a potentially disastrous defender early in his career, Forbes has worked himself into a fine defender, capable of staying on the floor against some of the best competition. He has always been a shooter and aggressive scorer, but his defense has been why he has earned minutes this year, regardless of which players are healthy.

Offensively, Patty Mills’ comfort level with the starters should be one of the most encouraging signs heading into the playoffs. Though he has always thrived as a streaky shooter off the bench, Patty has really developed as a pullup shooter from 3 and has shown that the extra dose of unpredictability and oomph he brings to the starters is sorely needed. He will never be on the elite level that players such as Steph Curry, Damian Lillard or Kyle Lowry are in the pick-and-roll, but he has become solid off the dribble from deep and a competent playmaker.

Defensively, Kyle Anderson and Danny Green did a great job of flying all around the court, and it took the Clippers making some incredibly difficult shots for them to come back and win. Anderson’s anticipation and long arms make him a surprisingly effective rim protector, and Green deserves more recognition for taking the biggest perimeter threat on D each night while improving his offensive game off the dribble. Along with Dejounte Murray and Aldridge, the Spurs start 80 percent of a nightmare of a defense for opposing teams, and their ability to lock offenses up is what will make them a pain to play come playoff time.

The Spurs also received a big boost from Manu Ginobili, even without his biggest contributions showing up in the box score. After the Clippers closed the gap, the Spurs needed some sort of spark, and the second-oldest player in the league delivered. He threw whip-smart passes, he attacked the rim, and he was an irritant on the defensive end. Despite his role shrinking over the years, Manu is still one of the most important players on the team.

The Clips won the game because they kept with it after a slow start and the Spurs are missing their closer. For now, the Spurs sit fifth in the West and the Clippers are still 10th, but the drama is sure to continue through the rest of the season.

For as sour a loss as Tuesday Night’s against the Clippers is, Spurs fans can panic about the road woes but not about the overall state of the team’s play. Some unfortunate officiating breaks and 15 big points from Williams down the stretch sunk the Spurs late, but the reason they had the game in hand is replicable: they started the game as the aggressor on both ends of the floor, Aldridge was awesome, and a little Ginobili magic energized everyone on the floor and the bench. The recipe is solid. 50 wins are no longer on the table, but nobody cares about that once the playoffs begin anyway.

Notes:

-After not really watching the game early on, my wife walked into the room, saw Boban check into the game for the Clippers, and then proceeded to just stand by the television and stare at him for something like three minutes.