Is it too early in the season to be talking about moral victories? It's not too early to panic if you're so inclined, but then again, there's really no point to panicking. And besides, what did you really expect?
The Clippers have lost so many times to the Spurs, and usually in such embarrassing fashion, that only being down 10 entering the fourth quarter, forcing Messieurs Duncan and Parker and Ginobili to actually exert effort after 9:30 PM, is a major accomplishment. Especially considering that LA was playing with their third string point guard.
Even if we don't call it a moral victory, at least there were some bright spots in the game, certainly as compared to the first three. As a team, they shot 46%, which is absolutely torrid compared to their 38% coming into the game. There were also several individual performances of note.
Eric Bledsoe, getting his first NBA start with Baron Davis and Randy Foye both hurt, had nine points, five rebounds, four steals, three assists and two blocked shots against an acceptable two turnovers in a team high 40 minutes of play. He was active and mostly composed, and while Tony Parker bested him on more than one occasion, Parker will do that to a lot of players this year. Besides, Bledsoe got a modicum of revenge on a monster chase down block of a Parker breakaway.
For most of the game, it wasn't in fact Bledsoe manning the point, but Eric Gordon. The Clippers have toyed with the idea of playing Gordon at the point since drafting him, and have paid some lip service to the concept. For instance, he played a little point in the 2009 Summer League. But for the most part, it has looked like a pipe dream, and he's never done more than very infrequent spot duty during the regular season. Tonight he played the point for most of the 33 minutes he was on the floor, and he responded to the opportunity with a career-high 11 assists, not to mention a team-leading 23 points on 10 for 17 shooting. He committed only two turnovers, despite the fact that he had the ball in his hands constantly (and one of those two was a lame Manu Ginobili flop that baited the ref into calling an offensive foul). He also had two of the best dunks of his career in the first half, both coming in the halfcourt set, and both through and over Spurs defenders. Unfortunately, he's still struggling from deep, missing all three of his three point attempts to drop to 3 for 21 on the season. If he can find his touch from deep, he'll be an unstoppable force on offense.
Chris Kaman broke out of his 29% shooting slump, scoring 18 points on 9 for 17 shooting - and yet, as only Kaman can do, he still managed to frustrate everyone in the building. He missed two layups and had a third blocked in the fourth quarter alone. His jump shot was falling, and this had the potential to be a 12 for 18 sort of night for Chris, but he managed to miss several easy ones - two in a tow at one point when the game was still in reach.
Even Ryan Gomes, who has looked useless in the first three games, managed to score 14 points on 11 shots, making two three ponters and a couple of other jump shots.
Blake Griffin was impressive again, finishing the game with 17 points and 8 rebounds. I didn't think he had any set offensive game to speak of, but his spin from the left block is becoming something of a go to move. He still looks a little shaky on the finish, but he's so quick and he gets so far on his drop step, that he often gives himself a pretty easy layup after blowing by his defender. Taking advantage of the ossifying-before-our-eyes Antonio McDyess, Griffin flew straight to the rim on a couple of occasions. The Spurs played off of Blake, as all teams are going to do until he learns to hit a 17 footer, but it surprisingly didn't seem to matter. Even giving him a wide cushion, McDyess was too slow to stay in front of him.
And yet despite all of those positives, the Spurs won the game, and pretty easily at that. Looking at the box score, you would think it would have been close. The Clippers outrebounded the Spurs 40-39, and enjoyed a 10 to 7 advantage on the offensive glass. They turned the ball over one fewer time than San Antonio. They made the same number of field goals. They took one more free throw. Unfortunately, they missed half of their 16 free throw attempts, and so were outscored by 4 points from the line, despite getting there more. They also gave up 9 threes, continuing a disturbing early season trend of getting killed from deep. Coming into the game, the Clippers had allowed a league high in threes per game and a league high three point shooting percentage as well. Allowing San Antonio to shoot 9 for 21 from long range certainly didn't do anything to change that. Despite what appeared to be a close game statistically, the Clippers were never closer than five points in the second half (the half time lead was six), and weren't within single digits in the fourth quarter until the final meaningless basket of the game.
The bench really struggled in this game, scoring a grand total of 2 points before Rasual Butler scored the last five points of the game in garbage time. With Baron and Foye out and Craig Smith playing only a minute before being tossed for committing a stupid flagrant foul on George Hill, the bench was reduced to DeAndre Jordan, Rasual Butler, Al-Farouq Aminu, Brian Cook and Willie Warren. Warren actually looked surprisingly good running the point for the final three minutes of the first half, but in general the reserves just didn't have enough. Butler should have been the scorer of the group, but he was ice cold, missing his first four shots, one of them hitting the side of the backboard.
The Clippers are now 0-4 with the Thunder, the darlings of the Western Conference, coming to town on Wednesday. After that, it's four tough road games, with back to backs in Denver and Utah followed by back to backs in New Orleans and San Antonio, which just happen to be four places the Clippers NEVER win. If the team can't manage to beat the Thunder, you might as well pencil in 0-9. Baron is listed as day-to-day with an inflamed popliteus joint. If he can't go on Wednesday, then the Clippers will be shorthanded against the Thunder as well.