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Spurs win a lot of battles but Clippers win the war

Another 26 point effort from Dejounte is not enough to keep pace with the Clippers

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In another game that had all the makings of an impressive upset, at least for the first 30 minutes or so, the Spurs yet again fell short as the Clippers used a surge at the end of the 3rd quarter to shake loose on their way to a 106-92 victory. Led by Dejounte Murray’s 26 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists, the Spurs hung tough, taking body blows and responding with shots of their own, clawing their way back from a double digit deficit to take the lead midway through the 3rd quarter. But the Clips reserves seized control of the game shortly thereafter, and the home team shot out to a lead the Spurs would never really challenge on the strength of a 14-2 run to close out the period.

The Spurs dominated in the paint, outscoring the Clippers 56-40, won the fastbreak battle 23-10 and even managed to put up more second chance points, 8-6. The Silver and Black forced the Clippers into 21 turnovers and held them to 44% from the field. Paul George lit up the scoreboard with a game high 34 points, but he needed 30 true shot attempts to get there, a relative victory for a defense that doesn’t have an obvious wing defender to throw at the Clippers’ superstar. In other words, the Spurs defense did its job, but they just couldn’t score enough to hang with one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

Unfortunately, this has been a recurring theme so far this season. The Spurs fight an uphill battle for the better part of 4 quarters before eventually succumbing to the weight of their own limitations. They can’t afford to lose in any phase of the game, and tonight the Spurs offset some of their turnover advantage with 16 miscues of their own while shooting a dismal 5-22 from deep. Their margin for error against the upper echelon of the league is far too small to overcome turnovers and poor shooting, so even in a game where they did so many other things right, they still got blown off the court in a matter of minutes when the winds shifted in the wrong direction.

Game Recap

The Spurs kicked off the game well on both ends of the court, switching well to contain the Clippers offense on their first possession and force a turnover on their second while Derrick White hit a pretty step back three and Keldon Johnson dropped in bucket of his own out of a post up. The Clips responded with their own mini-run to make it 6-5, at which point the two teams traded an even mix of misses and buckets for a few minutes. The Spurs defense remained solid, despite a few miscues, and the team scored enough to keep the game relatively even. At least until the substitutions began, that is.

Thad Young air-balled a driving hook on his first possession and then proceeded to turn the ball over on each of the next two trips down the floor. The Clippers weren’t quite able to take advantage of those slip ups, but their bench brought a different energy to the game and went on an 8-0 run over the last 4 minutes of the quarter to take a 25-18 lead. Then, in an instant, Lonnie Walker IV happened, with a rip and beautiful behind the back move to blow by a defender in transition for a layup to cut the lead back to 5 with only a couple of seconds left in the quarter (don’t worry, the clip is coming up).

For much of the 2nd quarter, the Spurs seemed to be in danger of letting the game slip away. Aside from Dejounte and a much-needed rebound game from Derrick White, the Spurs struggled to find and knock down good shots. The Clippers, on the other hand, squeezed out just enough open threes and lanes to the rim to prevent their offense from floundering at the same time and slowly pulled out to a 12 point lead. But the Spurs defense helped keep the game within reach, forcing 4 live ball turnovers which the good guys turned into 8 points. The real battle, though, was between Paul George and Dejounte, each of whom put up 15 points in the quarter on an array of drives and jumpers. Having matched George shot for shot, Dejounte managed to drag the Spurs back to within four by the end of the quarter, 53-57, finishing the half with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

The Clippers came out of halftime with much more aggression and energy, ready to cut off Dejounte’s penetration and force other Spurs to beat them. Initially, the Spurs responded well to the increased intensity, relying on constant ball and player movement to create cracks in the Clippers defense. A Nash-like drive from Derrick White led to a hockey assist through Dejounte to Drew Eubanks for an open dunk, then they ran the Clippers dizzy on the next possession to get Derrick an easy floater deep in the paint to tie the game at 59.

After a pair of turnovers that cancelled each other out, Derrick put the Spurs back in front with a step back jumper. Eric Bledsoe drilled a three to retake the lead, but then Derrick found Doug McDermott cutting to the basket for a layup, knocked down another jumper, then found Dejounte for layup to put the Spurs up 67-64 with 6:46 to go in the 3rd quarter. That, unfortunately, is when the wheels came off. The Spurs proceeded to make just 2 more field goals in the 3rd, while the Clippers reeled off 14 points on 7/9 shooting to build a comfortable 12 point lead heading into the 4th.

The game once again seemed headed to blow out territory early in the final stanza, as the Clippers knocked down a 3 on their first possession then immediately blocked a Bryn Forbes jumper. But as usual, the Spurs refused to give in and slowly got the game back in the vicinity of contention, shrinking the lead to single digits twice, but were never quite able to get over the hump. With just over 5 minutes to go, after Derrick had single handedly shut down a Ivica Zubac roll to the rim and Dejounte and Derrick had combined to close the door on a 3 on 2 Clippers fast break, Dejounte brought the ball right back up court and Derrick hit layup to cut the lead to 9 at 91-82. The Spurs appeared to have a shot at really getting back into it, but after a Clippers timeout, the Spurs failed to score on back to back possessions while the Clips went 2/3 from deep to push the lead back out to 15 and effectively shut the door on any realistic chance at a comeback.

Game Notes

  • Dejounte Murray was a dominant force on both ends of the court. He’ll shrug off the individual numbers (26 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals) because that’s not what drives him, but they are reflective of just how much he can put his imprint on a game. He takes over the game in little bursts, a silky pull-up jumper followed by a steal and a layup seems to be his calling card, and there doesn’t seem to be much teams can do against either. He’s still too slight to match up against the biggest wings, like George, but there aren’t many ball handlers who want to anything to do with Dejounte’s probing reach and predator-like instincts.
  • It is a shame to waste what will hopefully be a comeback game of sorts for Derrick White. After struggling so far this season, Derrick was back to his usual tricks, snaking through defenses for layups and floaters while keeping defenders off balance with an even mix of hard drives and step backs. His 19 points is a season high and that it came on an 8 of 14 performance from the field is just as important. He only hit 1 of his 4 attempts from three, but he looked confident letting the ball fly, and that’s probably just as important as whether or not the shots go in.
  • The Spurs shot 5/22 from three point range. That’s neither enough attempts in the modern game nor, obviously, enough makes. Some nights the shooters are hot and some nights they’re cold, it goes without saying, but the Spurs don’t shoot well enough, as a group, from inside the arc to make up the difference. They also only managed to earn 7 free throws to the Clippers’ 22. It’s hard to win games without knocking down threes or getting to the line.

Play of the Game

It was a bit of bleak moment for the Spurs, having allowed the Clippers’ bench to take a 7 point lead near the end of the first, but then Lonnie snatched the ball, streaked down the court and juked Amir Coffey three feet the wrong direction with this Manu-esque around the back maneuver.

Spurs Valuable Player (SVP)

3rd place (1 point): Keldon Johnson | 33 minutes, 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, only Spur to make more than 1 three

2nd place (2 point): Derrick White | 38 minutes, 19 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assist, 1 steal

1st place (3 point): Dejounte Murray | 31 minutes, 26 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals

Overall Leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 25pts

2nd - Devin Vassell - 14pts

3rd - Keldon Johnson - 12pts

4th - Jakob Poeltl & Thaddeus Young - 8pts each

5th - Derrick White - 7pts

6th - Doug McDermott - 5pts each

7th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts

8th - Lonnie Walker IV, Bryn Forbes & Jock Landale- 1pt each

Next Game: @ Timberwolves on Thursday

The Spurs will travel to Minnesota on the last leg of a 3 game road trip to face the 4-9 Timberwolves before returning home for a three day rest.