The San Antonio Spurs fell short of a massive upset over the Los Angeles Clippers, 131-126, falling apart in the clutch as their conference opponent gained momentum. While Gregg Popovich and his battalion of youngsters went toe-to-toe with another postseason contender, they failed to match their firepower with the game hanging in the balance.
Keldon Johnson paced the Silver and Black with 23 points, three boards, and two dimes, closely followed by 17 points each from Josh Richardson and Zach Collins. Kawhi Leonard led Los Angeles with a season-high 36 points, Normal Powell added 26 points off the bench, and Paul George 16 points and 12 assists for a sneakily efficient double-double.
- Gregg Popovich immediately tossed Jeremy Sochan into the fire, asking him to defend Kawhi Leonard from the start of the contest. Although the rookie started several possessions covering the five-time All-Star, screens forced him to switch onto other players over the first few minutes. When Sochan finally went toe-to-toe with his Clippers counterpart, Leonard unleashed a textbook spin move that led to an uncontested finish at the rim. This matchup was a perfect learning experience for the youngster, hopefully, one that will stick with him for the rest of his career.
- No one has allowed more first-quarter points this season than San Antonio (31.6), and the Clippers continued that trend, detonating for 41 points in the opening frame. Despite numerous defensive lapses from the Spurs, their offense came to life for 36 points to help them keep pace with Los Angeles. Both ball clubs shot over 60% from the field, foreshadowing what became an unmitigated shootout.
- You might not believe it, but almost a half-decade has passed since Kawhi Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio. Some Spurs fans still resent the superstar forward, though it felt like the AT&T Center audience showered him with fewer boos than usual, or at least that was how it sounded on the television broadcast.
- Tre Jones has been a pleasant surprise since the Spurs selected him with the 41st overall pick in the second round of the 2020 NBA Draft. The 23-year-old point guard might not be the organizational cornerstone that takes San Antonio back to the promised land, but he has continued sneaking into the Silver and Black record books. With four first-half helpers, Jones supplanted George Hill for 42nd place on the all-time franchise assists leaderboard.
- San Antonio shared the basketball practically as well as humanly possible for the first 24 minutes of the contest, notching 20 assists as eight players scored at least six points in the first half. Their passes were on target, off-ball movement was exquisite, screens were sturdy, and everyone sprinted the floor in transition. For a glorious moment, the offense was perfectly in synch, and the beautiful game emerged in its purest form.
- Jeremy Sochan got the Spurs on the scoreboard with a spot-up three-pointer and a thunderous two-handed putback slam. The teenage forward followed that up with a midrange jumper off the dribble and another rim-rocker off a teammate’s miss. Though the first-year forward is relatively limited as a self-creator, his energy on the glass and willingness to venture outside his comfort zone have been one of the best parts of the rebuild.
- The Silver and Black have no genuine closer on their roster, which has left them in an awkward position when the action slows down in crunch time. That issue reared its head as they struggled to manufacture points in the half-court late in the fourth quarter despite hanging around Los Angeles for most of the night. Keldon Johnson and Josh Richardson drained a few desperation threes with less than a minute left in regulation, but the final result was never in question once the Clippers built a double-digit lead.
- Josh Richardson has made himself an attractive trade target ahead of the highly-anticipated deadline. Including this contest, the eighth-year guard has averaged 14.2 points and 3.9 assists on .538/.404/.875 shooting splits over his last ten games. San Antonio should green-light any potential deal involving a first-round pick. And with the veteran in solid form, contenders should be willing to pay that price.
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