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Sloppy Spurs get steamrolled by Clippers in blowout loss

A bad start filled with lazy turnovers doomed the Spurs to a 40-point loss on the road.

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

The Spurs looked completely lost on their visit to Los Angeles. The turnovers piled on early on and the defense had no answers as the minutes passed for a San Antonio team that was outclassed. The Clippers barely had to break a sweat as they cruised to a 123-83 win that was as one-sided as the score suggests.

The focus coming into the season for the Spurs was on defense, but it was their offense that doomed them on Sunday. San Antonio started off the game by making incredibly lazy passes that the Clippers’ ball hawks just snatched away in order to fuel their transition attack. Even when the Silver and Black got a shot up, it came after only a handful of passes and little off-ball movement, so the looks weren’t great. Things improved marginally when Cedi Osman and Tre Jones checked in, but a couple of threes and a few good pick-and-rolls were not enough to actually right the ship. The second unit’s good stretch, the Clips’ own sloppiness and a few great possessions by Wembanyama on defense in which he affected shots and delayed decisions kept the game from being out of reach after one, but the home team still led by six.

There was no epiphany in the second quarter. The offense was still stuck in mud, with the Spurs trying to start possessions from the post too often instead of going for the similarly ineffective handoffs they used earlier. With Zach Collins’ threes not falling and the defense not paying much attention to non-shooters like Sochan, the spacing got cramped. There were a few good possessions, but not even all of those resulted in buckets, because the Clippers were locked in on defense. San Antonio labored for every point while their opponent, without shining, kept getting enough shots to fall to pull away. The lead reached 21 points at one point and despite the best efforts of Devin Vassell, who hit some big shots, the Silver and Black struggled to close the gap in any meaningful way. At the break, the Clippers were ahead by 19 and it seemed like they could have been up more.

Whatever Gregg Popovich told the players in the locker room during halftime didn’t work. The turnovers were not as plentiful in the second half, but the Clippers didn’t need any help to absolutely dominate at this point. The veteran team smelled blood in the water against a young group that wasn’t tough physically or mentally on Sunday, going on a run to get the lead in the high 20s and not slowing down from there. San Antonio struggled to get Wembanyama touches and there was no savior putting a strong stretch together to hold off Los Angeles. The game was over at the half, in all likelihood, but the Clippers made sure there was not even the possibility of some Wemby late-game heroics by disposing of an inferior team and turning the entire fourth quarter into garbage time, en route to a 40-point win.

Game notes

  • The offense is a mess at times, so it’s understandable to question the system or the starting lineup, but a lot of the early turnovers against the Clippers came from lazy passes. The Spurs can’t afford to have many empty trips and they definitely can’t allow opponents to run. The simple reason why San Antonio got steamrolled is because no one was focused or sharp against a good team that made them pay for their mistakes.
  • Victor Wembanyama couldn’t figure out how to get in position to score or create. He needs to catch the ball closer to the basket when he’s in the post and he needs to be already moving when he catches the ball on drives. Both Wemby and his teammates need to work on getting him not only more touches in general but also actual opportunities to score.
  • At some point, those Zach Collins threes will fall, and that will help the offense a lot. They weren’t going down on Sunday, though. Collins, who rarely rolls after screens, gets dared to shoot from outside by opponents and so far this season he hasn’t been able to make them pay.
  • Keldon Johnson really struggled to score or create, finishing the game with five points on nine shots and no assists. Jeremy Sochan didn’t score and had more turnovers than assists. Neither was an asset on defense. When two starters struggle that badly, 40-point losses are not totally surprising.
  • Devin Vassell scored 14 points on 10 shots and had a couple of good drives. In the first one, he got an And-1 opportunity. In the second, he finished in transition after a Eurostep. It’s encouraging to see him attack the rim more and look confident and in control while doing so.
  • Cedi Osman continues to look like a great pickup. He hits his shots and plays within himself, which is what the Spurs need from their veterans. Charles Bassey also provided some good minutes off the bench, mostly by bringing energy. Those two get a passing grade.
  • The rest of the bench didn’t have a good night. Jones had a couple of good plays in his first stretch, but he had as many turnovers as assists and wasn’t the X-Factor the Spurs needed him to be off the bench. Doug McDermott and Malaki Branham padded their stats in the fourth quarter but did little when it counted. They are not the reason the Spurs lost, but they didn’t help.
  • The deep bench guys all got some garbage time minutes except for Devonte’ Graham, who didn’t play at all. No one did anything noteworthy.

Play of the game

The Collins-to-Wemby high-low pass is eventually going to give opponents nightmares, once those two develop more chemistry.

Next game: vs. the Suns on Tuesday

The Spurs will travel to Phoenix to take on the home team twice in a row, with a second matchup on Thursday. After facing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Kevin Durant awaits. Things are not getting easier for the Silver and Black.