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What We Learned from the Spurs win over the Clippers

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San Antonio beat Los Angeles, which wasn’t a surprise at all, right? No, not even one little bit (ahem).

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

With 2:13 remaining in the second quarter, with the score tied and the ball firmly in Kawhi Leonard’s giant mitts, I got a familiar feeling. The reigning Finals MVP would dribble deliberately down the court toward his defender - in this case, DeMar DeRozan - generate space with his excellent footwork and excellent handle, and then rise up for an open jumper. He would make it, of course, I thought.

Sure enough, he got the shot he wanted - wide open from about 16 feet. My stomach sank. This is our new reality as Spurs fans in the 2019-20 season. We get close with teams, then our defense lets us down, then a wide open shot, a missed rotation, a dunk, a loss. I watched as the ball arced inevitably toward the bottom of the net.

Somehow, it did not make it there. It bounced off the back of the rim and away. All five Spurs were in position for the rebound - four in the paint. Of course, Patrick Beverly darted in from the three-point line and got his hands on the ball. The sinking feeling came again. Even when we force a miss, I thought, we can’t rebound. No rebounds, no stops, no way to win.

But Beverly had - with no intervention from the defense - managed to lose control of the ball. Now, DeRozan was hustling for the loose ball. He was on the floor. He was taking the ball away from Beverly, one of the toughest players in the league. The Spurs were now fast-breaking back up court. Would wonders ever cease?

Although the Spurs didn’t score on that play, the victory over Clippers - and the way that it happened - was a huge surprise. A scuffling Spurs team vs. a streaking Clippers team...and the Spurs led by as many as 19. Derrick White made five threes. DeMar made one as well! Marco had 6 rebounds in less than 13 minutes, for the first time in his career. May the rest of the season be just as pleasantly surprising, and may we all be a little less sure of ourselves and what we think we know.

Takeaways:

  • Kawhi Leonard is 0-2 in 2 return trips to the AT&T Center. In his entire career, the normally efficient Leonard has only two games with 23+ shots and 8 or fewer makes. Want to guess which two games? It’s alright to start wondering if San Antonio is in his head. I know I am.
  • The Spurs can win when multiple players on the other team have the worst games of their seasons. (Paul George & Lou Williams were a combined 4-21 from the floor.) Past performance of the San Antonio defense does not predict future results.
  • When you avoid fouling shooters, you have a better chance to win. The Spurs are 4-2 when holding opponents to 18 or fewer free throws in the game. The Clippers got to the line only 13 times, the second lowest total for the Clippers this season and a season low for a Spurs opponent.
  • The Williams-Harrell screen & roll has been devastating the league for the past two seasons but couldn’t get going against the Spurs. Harrell is usually fast enough to get around bigger guys and too strong for smaller ones. Aldridge & Poeltl’s great length and positioning caused him a lot of problems. It was probably the best game of the year for the Spurs interior defense.
  • If you’re not on the Jakob Poeltl bandwagon, get on immediately. We’re watching a remarkably efficient and productive big man. For the second game in a row, he had 4+ blocks, 3 or fewer fouls, in less than 22 minutes. That sounded rare to me. Guess what? It’s only the 11th time a player has tallied those numbers in 20 years.
  • When the Spurs get a lot of assists, they’re more likely to win. They had 28 against the Clippers, their 5th highest total of the season. The Spurs are 4-2 when they get 26 or more assists.
  • Patty Mills is still our BALA. He led the team with a +17 and had a couple of huge plays in the third & fourth quarters to keep the Clippers at bay.

Spurs vs. Clippers Throwback

These Spurs were in the midst of an incredible 20 game win streak. These Clippers would eventually go on to beat the Warriors in the 2014 Playoffs (people forget this!)