The San Antonio Spurs finally got a much-needed win to end to their five-game skid: a 101-94 victory over the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers. With Paul George out with a torn ligament in his elbow and no timetable for Kawhi Leoanrd to play this season, this game presented the Spurs with a perfect opportunity to get back on track, but they would need to find a level of energy that had been lacking during their 1-9 run over the last 10 games — all of which they had been dealing with COVID depletion.
The Spurs got both good and bad news before tipoff, with Derrick White finally returning after missing the last five games but Jakob Poeltl being a late scratch after jarring his back the night before. As a result, Jock Landale got the first start of his career and quickly hit first three-point attempt after missing his last seven over the last two games. The Spurs got out to a 10-4 lead before allowing a Clippers 10-0 run, which was ended by a Lonnie Walker three. He would go on to score nine of his 10 points in the first quarter, and although the Spurs defense was much better than previous games, they were still down 22-21 by the end of the first quarter.
However, in came White off the bench, who looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, triggering 14-3 run to start second quarter with 8 straight points of his own, sandwiched in between six points from Keita Bates-Diop. The Spurs would get the lead as high as 16 at 54-38 with just over three minutes left in the half thanks to White’s third three of the quarter, but Amir Coffey — who had a team-high 20 points for the Clippers — got hot and helped the Clippers close the half on a 9-2 run, trimming the Spurs’ lead to 56-47 lead at halftime.
The Spurs were the more aggressive team coming out of the locker room to rebuild their double-digit lead and were even in the bonus with 8:54 left in the third quarter. They were able to maintain a double-digit lead for much of the quarter but once again allowed a 10-3 Clippers run to close the quarter, and the lead trimmed down to 85-80. The Clippers actually hit seven threes in the quarter compared to three for the Spurs, so the fact that San Antonio was only outscored 33-29 didn’t seem too bad in the moment.
Unfortunately, the Clippers scored the first 8 points of fourth quarter and overall opened on a 12-2 run — which stretching back to the end of the third was a 22-5 run overall — and gained their first lead since the end of the first quarter. During that overall run, the ghost of Serge Ibaka past was back to haunt the Spurs on both ends, scoring all 10 of his points, including two threes and two blocks just like during his prime years with the Thunder.
With the Clippers up 92-87 with 7:24 left, it was looking like the Spurs were out of gas yet again and were going to fade away — which would be understandable considering this was their fifth game in seven nights and tenth in 16, all of which have been played shorthanded to some extent — but seemingly out of nowhere, they found another gear. They toughened up on defense and loosened up on offense, responding with 14-2 run to end fourth quarter for the win, with 12 of those points coming from White and Dejounte Murray.
- What a difference having both Murray and White playing makes. They are by far the Spurs best players and one of the best defensive backcourt duos in the league. They’re both capable of creating their own offense and for others, and the Spurs are at their best when at least one of them is on the court to guide things. After their win over the Lakers on December 23, Murray missed five games with COVID, only for White to miss the five after they squeezed in a win together in Boston on January 5 in Murray’s return game. In those 10 games without one of them, the Spurs went just 1-9, meaning they’re 15-18 when they both play. That’s not world-beating by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly shows how much better off the Spurs are having both of them around.
- The Spurs didn’t actually end their trend of cold fourth quarters, they just flipped which half of the quarter they went cold. In actuality, they only outscored the Clippers 16-14 in the fourth, and most of the time that wouldn’t be enough to win a close game. The key was they started the quarter cold but ended strong while their opponent went cold down the stretch. Hopefully as they get back to full strength, they can find more ways to maintain their energy late in the game, because they don’t have consecutive nights off until February 5, when they’ll have four days off before the start of the Rodeo Road Trip.
Play of the Game
In a game that was much more methodical in nature and devoid of many big or exciting plays, we’re going with Lonnie skywalking for the slam in the first quarter. He would only score one more point the rest of the way, but his nine first-quarter points were important in getting the Spurs offense going again after the Clippers had gained the lead.
3rd place (1 point) - Jock Landale | 10 points, 1-3 from three, 11 rebounds, 2 assists
This was tough. It was tempting to give it to Keldon Johnson, who had a more efficient shooting night with 17 points on 50% shooting from the field and three, and Bates-Diop also had a good game off the bench with an efficient 13 points and 7 rebounds and was team high +15. But ultimately, Landale is getting the nod for his showing in a surprise start after Poeltl was a late scratch with back spasms. He didn’t have a great scoring night, but he was ready for the challenge and held the much larger Ivica Zubac in check when he could have been a problem for the Spurs. It was an all-around good job for his first career start.
2nd place (2 points) - Dejounte Murray | 18 points (8-17 shooting), 7 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals
Another tough decision. Murray once again was big in the fourth quarter for the Spurs, helping lead them to the win after it was looking like another cold ending would doom them. He did his usual damage in other aspects of the game, but someone else matched his six points during their game winning run and had an overall more efficient shooting night.
1st play (3 points) - Derrick White | 19 points (7-11 shooting), 3-5 from three, 4 assists, 3 blocks
What a COVID comeback game. After missing the last five games in Health and Safety Protocols, White — who is typically known for needing time to return to form — came back with a vengeance. Despite coming off the bench, he looked like he hadn’t missed a beat on either end, scoring 13 points in the second quarter to help the Spurs build a 16-point lead and matching Murray with six points during the game-winning run, plus doing what he does and drawing a key charge. It’s just good to have him back.
1st - Dejounte Murray - 67pts
2nd - Derrick White - 43pts
3rd - Jakob Poeltl - 34pts
4th - Devin Vassell - 27pts
5th - Keldon Johnson - 25pts
6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 17pts
7th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts
8th - Thaddeus Young & Doug McDermott - 9pts
9th - Keita Bates-Diop - 5pts
10th - Jock Landale - 4pts
11th - Josh Primo - 3pts
12th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts
13th - Tre Jones - 1pt
Up next: Monday vs. Phoenix Suns
The Spurs seven-game homestand will continue on Monday with the league-leading Phoenix Suns. Hopefully Poeltl is back by then because, the Spurs will need all the help they can get keeping Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee off the glass.