The Spurs suffered their second blowout at the hands of the Clippers in as many matchups. After doing a good job of keeping pace in the first half despite some issues on both ends, they simply couldn’t hang on after the break, which resulted in a 124-99 loss that is not as discouraging as the final score would suggest.
In a battle of contrasting styles between an older, star-studded team that likes to play more methodically and a younger squad that relies on transition points to make up for their lack of shot creators, it was the Clippers who imposed their identity early. Neither offense was clicking in the first few minutes but the visitors forced a half-court battle that would leave San Antonio with no fastbreak points in the first quarter. Meanwhile, James Harden slowly picked the Spurs’ defense apart with his playmaking and a zone stopped a Silver and Black squad that despite not looking particularly sharp was putting points on the board. The Clippers didn’t dominate the matchup but seemed more comfortable with how it was being played and led by six after the first 12 minutes.
The start of the second quarter saw the Spurs’ offense still looking rudimentary but it got some steadiness from Tre Jones, so the opponents traded buckets after a Clippers’ mini run. San Antonio then found some success with a zone defense that forced some misses, but unfortunately a couple of threes from the top of the arc gave the Clippers an answer to the adjustment. As the starters checked back in, the points became harder to come by for the home team, and a lead that had hovered around the six-point mark reached double digits. The worries about a first-half blowout were justified but a unit featuring a couple of starters and the subs did enough to keep it within reach. Charles Bassey blocked some shots, the rest pushed the ball and that was enough to hold on. At the break, the Spurs trailed by just 11 points.
Third quarters have been an issue for the Spurs the entire season but for a few minutes, they managed to keep up. The Clippers were still comfortably in control, but they couldn’t create a big enough buffer to head into the final period with the win secured. Unfortunately, as it happened throughout the night, as soon as the guys in Silver and Black made mistakes, their opponent was ready to capitalize. A few bad possessions in a row from the Spurs, featuring two turnovers and a missed Zach Collins three, were enough for the Clippers to push their lead to 15 thanks to some great minutes from Kawhi Leonard. To their credit, the second unit once again made a push to reduce the deficit, but a poor end of the frame allowed Tyronn Lue’s crew to lead by 16 with just 12 minutes left to go.
A comeback seems unlikely at this point, as the Spurs could only put short stretches of good play together while missing opportunities to make a push, but the hope was that they could at least keep things competitive and suspenseful. Alas, that didn’t happen. Victor Wembanyama couldn’t have one of his strong fourth quarters and the offense in general went dry at the wrong time. Paul George went on a 7-0 run of his own in the first two minutes of the quarter and pushed the lead to 21. Keldon Johnson tried his best to turn the tide, but the defense just couldn’t get stops. It was another blowout loss for the Spurs, but there are at least some silver linings to this one, as the team faced adversity early on but persevered before eventually going down against a superior opponent.
- Victor Wembanyama looked a little lost on both ends. To be fair to the rookie, his teammates missed him while he was open a couple of times but when he got the ball he put up some bad threes and seemed out of rhythm. It’s fine for Wemby to go for mid-range shots when he faces up against smaller players because he can’t put the ball on the floor without risking a steal, but he needs to launch them with more purpose instead of looking like he’s settling. On the other end, he continues to overhelp, which is a problem when he’s guarding guys like Kawhi Leonard.
- Collins, Sochan and Champagnie combined for 25 points on 30 points while missing 11 of their 13 combined three-point attempts. Not ideal and especially harmful in a game in which Wembanyama didn’t have it going and the team needed outside shots to prevent the Clippers from packing the paint. Johnson had similarly bad numbers before a good stretch, too. The starters struggled.
- The bench had more standouts. Cedi Osman was fantastic and continues to look like a fantastic pickup, getting 17 points and four rebounds. As Pop said post-game, though, he’s a complementary guy, not someone a go-to scorer like Paul George, so his efforts were not enough. Charles Bassey also had a really strong game, bringing intensity on the defensive end and attacking the boards. Tre Jones has his moments and Malaki Branham scored efficiently, at least.
- The Spurs’ struggles against zone defenses continued. The personnel is not really there to thrive against zones, but even a small improvement would help and it seems achievable.
Play of the night
There were a handful of Manu-esque plays from the Spurs in this one, including two Cedi Osman behind-the-back dribbles that led to successful drives, but this perfect Eurostep by Keldon Johnson is too pretty to pass up.
Next game: vs. the Clippers on Wednesday
The Spurs will have the opportunity to get revenge in just two days, as they will once again face the Clippers in San Antonio.