There's a tendency I think, after a bad loss like last night, for the die hard fan to rationalize the situation. Especially in the case of a perennial power like the Spurs, who have simply dominated the Clippers for many years, the easy way out is to say "Those guys are really good. There isn't much the Clippers can do against a great team like that."
There are two problems with that thinking. For one, the Spurs were 11-9 going into the game and 1-5 on the road. Now, I myself said that the Spurs were better than that, and they may be rounding into shape as they always seem too. But at some point if you're going to have a competitive NBA team, you have to, you know, compete, even against the good teams, especially at home.
Here's the bigger problem though. The Spurs are elite and have been for years because of their big three, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. The other guys around them are usually pretty interchangeable. Maybe this new group is better than the past groups - maybe they're not. The point is, Duncan, Parker and Ginolbili combined to play 0 minutes in the fourth quarter. The Clippers started the fourth in a 13 point hole - certainly a lot to come back from against a good team, but not impossible. One would at least hope that LA could chip away some and force the Spurs to go back to their starters. Instead, the lead ballooned to as much 31 points and the final was a 25 point margin, with nary a Spurs star on the floor. The Clippers didn't so much lose to Duncan, Parker and Ginobili as they lost to George Hill and DaJuan Blair and Matt Bonner. Bonner was +32 in 18 minutes. That's hard to imagine.
A few more random notes, since I short changed the recap last night:
- Al Thornton, it must be said, is playing well. He's up to .485 shooting at this point, significantly above his career percentage. This, after being an unmitigated disaster from the field in the first 6 games. Since then, he's actually shooting .521 in the last 16 games. He's also hustling, rebounding (especially on the offensive glass) and playing good defense. His block on Tim Duncan last night was spectacular.
- I'd like to see Steve Novak get some more minutes. The knock on him, the reason he doesn't get on the floor, is of course that he is a poor defender. But court sense can make up for a lack of physical ability. If you watch him when he's out there, he does good things. He rotates well, he boxes out. The charge he drew of DaJaun Blair last night was just a smart basketball play - not too mention one of the bravest and most foolhearty things I've even seen. I'll also say this - going for the monster jam up 28 with less than 5 minutes to play is a dubious decision. Blair's lucky it was Novak and not Marcus Camby back there. I think Marcus would have laid him out in that situation.
- Looking at the game flow, I'm just at a loss as to how they ended up with a front court of Craig Smith, Rasual Butler and Ricky Davis in a key moment in the fourth. Part of it was that MDsr had pushed beyond his normal substitution pattern in the third, hoping to cut into the lead. Unfortunately, it backfired, because they didn't get the lead down, and then he was forced to sit everyone at once. (Though of course he wasn't forced to.) Even so, wouldn't either DeAndre Jordan or Novak have made much more sense? Was Rasual Butler really playing the four? Or was it Ricky Davis? It's not just that it was a small lineup - it was simply a lineup where that didn't belong together. With both the power forward and the center playing out of position, people can't be comfortable in their sets. It showed. The group was atrocious for the entirety of their brief appearance together, and by the time it ended, garbage time had begun.
- And how about Chris Kaman stopping and going back for Tim Duncan when the Clippers had a 5 or 4 break in the third quarter? The camera didn't really show anything beyond Kaman stopping, but it was just bizarre. Was he checking to see if Duncan was OK? WTH? How about getting a dunk while Duncan is down, and THEN asking if he's OK? Strange, strange dude.