“No one cared who I was until I put on the mask.”
Okay, I guess that’s not entirely true, but “Leatherface Leonard” was certainly an intimidating sight to behold. The Spurs seemed a bit spooked by his mask too, as they allowed Leonard to score an efficient 30 points and almost lead the Clippers to a comeback victory. I wish I could say that San Antonio held on for a comfortable win after being up by as much 24, but this is the Spurs we’re talking about; a young team who’s still learning how to bring a game home, no matter how much they’re up by.
The good guys scored the first nine points of the game before letting the Clippers go on a 16-6 run, which resulted in L.A.’s only ever lead. Patty Mills stopped the bleeding by hitting four threes in the opening frame, and the Spurs had already converted on nine triples just a few minutes into the second quarter. The Clippers, meanwhile, looked lethargic for much of the first half, with Leonard the only player who kept them within striking distance.
That narrative flipped after halftime, up by 19 to begin the third, the Spurs’ offense ran out of juice while L.A. came out firing on all cylinders by hitting eight consecutive shots. The lead was down to six by the midway point of the quarter, and the Clippers outscored San Antonio 40-22 in the frame.
Luckily, the Spurs snapped out of their funk early in the fourth when the game was tied at 85. The Patty Mills fuelled Spurs went on a 12-0 run and led by double digits for most of the quarter. The Clippers on the other hand weren’t gonna let up, as San Antonio’s defenders were late on their rotations, which allowed Patrick Beverly to hit a barrage of threes and lead his team back into the game. The Spurs’ offense dried up again during the final minutes of the game, which gave L.A. multiple chances to tie or take the lead. Thankfully, they failed to execute, and San Antonio squeaked out a narrow win following a missed three-pointer from Kawhi just before the buzzer sounded.
Although the Spurs blew multiple leads, there are still many positives to take away from this game. For starters, Pop trusted the young guns down the stretch even after they made some crucial mistakes. This isn’t like last season when the vets constantly threw away winnable games, as this iteration of the Silver and Black is a young team that will experience growing pains in moments like this. Instead of viewing Tuesday’s game as a negative, we should see it as a sign that the Spurs are going through a learning process and will become a force to be reckoned with once they’ve fully matured.
- LaMarcus Aldridge shot well to start the game by hitting three mid-rangers in the first quarter. However, he tailed off later on and finished the game shooting 6-16 from the field. Perhaps he’s still shaking off some rust after missing the three previous games, but you have to wonder if this is just who he is now. Remember, Aldridge is 35 and coming off shoulder surgery, so his early struggles might just be the norm rather than a slow start to the season. He’s been a great player for many years, but Father Time catches up to everyone (except for LeBron James).
- Dejounte Murray had a nice bounceback game after going 1-13 from the field on Sunday. He scored 17 in the first half alone while being a defensive menace. That being said, I was actually most impressed by his competitive level late in the game. After turning the ball over to Nicolas Batum, he hustled back and prevented a free dunk even though it resulted in free throws for Batum. It’s easy to forget that Murray is still only 24, and these are the type of mistakes he’ll learn from that will make him become a better player.
- Speaking of young players, Devin Vassell made major contributions in the fourth quarter by scoring six points after the Clippers tied the game. Even though Pop has committed to playing the young guns more, it’s still nice to see him trust a rookie to contribute in key minutes.
- Jakob Poeltl is a solid rim protector and provides an intimidating presence in the paint, but his lack of mobility makes him an easy target for quicker guards and wings. There were multiple possessions in the fourth when the Clippers forced a mismatch on to Poeltl which ended in them hitting threes. The Spurs need to figure out a way to fight over screens and not allow such easy switches on to their bigs.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Patty Mills, who continued to shoot lights out from deep. The Aussie drained a career-high eight threes and finished with 27 points off the bench. Even though this team is going through a transition phase, it’s important to remember just how crucial steady vets like Mills are to a young and inexperienced team.
Next game: Lakers on Thursday
After losing twice to the Lakers last week, San Antonio will get another shot at the defending champs on Thursday at the Staples Centre.