This is one of those games that hurts your point differential in the standings more than it should, because this wasn't really a 12 point loss. Believe it or not, the Clippers appeared to be within 3, with the ball, with a 5-on-4 advantage, with less than 3 minutes left to play. I say appeared to be, because in fact the Clippers hadn't really been within three since early in the third quarter despite what the scoreboard said - during a subsequent stoppage in play, the refs reviewed an Eric Bledsoe tear drop that came very late in the shot clock, and determined that in fact it was after the buzzer, and so wiped two points off the board. In the course of less than 60 seconds, the Spurs scored seven points, the refs took two away from the Clippers, and what had seemed to be a one possession game was suddenly a 12 point Spurs lead. Think about it - the crowd and everyone thought that the Clippers had a chance to tie the game when they had the ball at 2:45, and the Spurs ended up clearing their bench for the final 70 seconds. How many times do you see that happen? From nail-biter to laugher in 90 seconds.
I'm not going to say that the officials changed the outcome, because I really can't imagine any scenario in which the Spurs would have lost, but this was one bizarre game. That 9-0 run in those crucial 60 seconds included a flagrant foul called on Ryan Gomes which was simply ludicrous AND a technical foul on Blake Griffin that I only know was on Blake Griffin because I read it in the box score - Milph certainly had no idea why it was called or who it was on, which tells you that the behavior was not particularly over the top. The net effect of those calls was a 5 point possession in a
3 point (oops) 5 point game. (Can't blame the refs for taking Bledsoe's bucket off the board as it was the correct call, and the Clippers had benefited from such a review in Utah on Saturday, but it just added to the bizarre feeling of a game that had seemed in reach, that was suddenly out of reach, all while the clock was stopped.)
If indeed Griffin did say something to the refs that warranted a technical foul, one could hardly blame him. The Spurs blanketed him in the post all night, forcing him into a 5 for 18 shooting performance. And with all that attention, and all those shots in close quarters, Griffin took one trip to the free throw line. Oh, and don't get me started on how Gomes' foul on Richard Jefferson (a legitimate attempt at a shot block from every camera angle available) was a flagrant, while Antonio McDyess' intentional take down of Griffin as he gathered to dunk was just a regular foul. Is it possible that, other than McDyess' obvious foul, the Spurs never fouled Griffin in the act of shooting the rest of the night? I suppose it's possible, but the scratches on his face and neck would seem to suggest that he wasn't exactly untouched. Blake was justifiably frustrated, but I guess he's still just a rookie.
I've made the point about this Clippers' team that they have four starters you can put up against most any team in the league. Well, tonight, three of those four guys (Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Baron Davis) were not playing because of injuries, and the fourth (Griffin) was 5 for 18. So it's actually pretty amazing that the Clippers were in fact still within five with three minutes to go.
We thought depth would be a major issue for this team, but assuming they can get healthy again, it suddenly looks like much less of an issue. When Eric Bledsoe was forced into the starting lineup, he responded with outstanding play that none of us expected from him this early in his career. Now it's Al-Farouq Aminu's turn. Tonight he was 4 of 7 for 10 points, after making 7 of 10 shots last night on the way to 20 points. He has made 7 of 11 three point attempts on the season, which is certainly unexpected. In fact, of the small forwards who were on the board when the Clippers picked AFA, Paul George has made 7 of 22 threes, Gordon Hayward has made 1 of 7, and Luke Babbitt has made 1 of 4 - and they were all supposedly much better shooters.
Aminu's length and activity have been clearly evident since he's gotten on the floor. He had three steals tonight after getting two in New Orleans - he just gets his long arms onto the ball. Several of his steals weren't overly deceptive - the opponent saw him there and thought they'd thrown a perfectly decent pass, but Aminu's telescopic arms just reached out and grabbed the ball when the passer thought it not possible. He also had a strong drive to the basket and authoritative slam tonight. The bottom line is, he's ready to contribute, and needs to be in the rotation, even after everyone gets healthy.
The more I think about this game, the more amazed I am that the Clippers were hanging around in the fourth. We said that the Clippers would have to defend the three point line - but the Spurs made 11 of 18. The Spurs held a 41-34 rebounding advantage and took more than twice as many free throws (30 to 14). And then there's the simple talent disparity, with the Spurs starting three all stars (not to mention that Jefferson is also playing like an all star right now) and the Clippers starting three guys under 23. The Clipper did well to hang around - but they really had no chance.
So the brutal opening two weeks of the Clippers schedule finally comes to a close with the record standing at 1-8. It's a bad record - worst in the NBA as of this moment. But on the bright side, at least it's not 0-9. Unfortunately, if they can't get healthy pretty soon (and we know that Kaman at least will be out for several more games), they may not have enough firepower to take advantage of the soft part of their schedule coming up. Starting 1-8 against the quality teams they've been playing is bad enough - but if they don't regain some ground against the next seven opponents, none of whom made the playoffs last season, it will be a disaster.