In the end, the Clippers were just too much in their 108-105 victory over the visiting Spurs. Too talented, too disciplined and too good for a Spurs team that can’t quite fight past their worst tendencies. A hot start undone by another 3rd quarter collapse. A competitive 4th quarter - and a 5 point lead with 3 minutes to go - undone by defensive miscues and missed shots in crunch time.
There’s no explaining away those shortcomings at this point; that’s just what this version of the Spurs is. But before they could reenact the story of their season on the Staples Center court, the Silver and Black rode their 2 stars to an impressive 1st half of basketball.
On the strength of a 39 point 1st quarter, all scored by the starters, the Spurs grabbed a 10 point lead, then added to it in the first few minutes of the 2nd quarter, stretching the gap out to 15 at one point. The Clippers battled back, but despite a brief appearance from the apex predator version of Kawhi Leonard, went into halftime still down by 9.
DeMar DeRozan’s 21 points in the 1st half paced all scorers and he did it on 10 of 13 from the field, while LaMarcus Aldridge added in 12 points to go with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Most impressively, the Spurs had only 2 turnovers in the first 24 minutes of basketball, always a good sign.
But none of that carried over through the break. When action resumed, the Spurs were out-gunned and out-hustled by a Clippers squad that brought a renewed sense of intensity to the defensive end of the floor. The good guys didn’t score a field goal until more than 6 minutes into the 3rd quarter, by which time the Clippers had used an impressive 18-4 run to seize the lead.
The Spurs stayed in contact, though, never letting the game get away, and even managed to take that late lead. That they couldn’t hold onto it is perhaps the least surprising thing of all. Still, they had a chance up to the very last moment, when a Derrick White heave came up a little short of sending the game into extra time.
It’s remarkable that the Spurs were able to live both up and down to expectations in a single game. The were not, after all, supposed to win this game. The Clippers are one of the best teams in the league and they were playing at home, where they’ve lost just 5 games all season. And yet, the Spurs had a chance. A bounce of the ball here, a different call on a weak flagrant foul there, and the result could have gone the other way.
In another season, perhaps it would have. But that would be a different story entirely.
- Jakob Poeltl tried to check in late in the 1st quarter without his jersey on. The Spurs took a delay of game warning while the big Austrian ran back to the locker room. That meant LaMarcus stayed in the game, where he promptly drilled a three pointer and completed a three-point play the old-fashioned way. It was, all in all, a fortuitous mistake, and a pretty funny one.
- DeMar dropped an inadvertent elbow into Paul George’s face on a floater in the 3rd quarter. Despite the solid contact, the play was pretty clearly unintentional, but upon review, the officials deemed it a flagrant foul. George had already run back to the locker room with a bloody nose, so the Clippers had to call timeout to allow him time to return and shoot the free throws so he could continue playing in the game.
- The Spurs played some tough defense at the rim, holding the Clippers below 60% shooting within 4 feet of the basket. Jakob Poeltl led the team with 3 blocks, while LaMarcus and Derrick White chipped in 2 each, and Trey Lyles and Lonnie Walker IV had 1 apiece. Lonnie’s was an especially impressive stuff on Montrezl Harrell from behind midway through the 4th that felt, at the time, like a critical play in the game.
- Kawhi led the Clippers in scoring, with 22 points, and would’ve scored more if the Spurs hadn’t forced the ball out of his hands with double teams throughout the game. Paul George added 19 points, as well 12 rebounds and 8 assists.
- The Spurs likely would’ve had a better shot to win with a little better late game execution. They burned 4 seconds running a play with only 13 seconds left on the game clock just to draw the Clippers last remaining foul to give, then took another 5 seconds on the ensuing play to get a shot. With their own foul to give still in play, the Spurs then had to foul twice to put the Clippers on the free throw line. That left less than 2 seconds on the clock for the Spurs last attempt to score, which ultimately fell short.
Next game: @ the Lakers on Tuesday
The Spurs will remain in L.A. as they face the top team in the West tomorrow night.