Another year, another strong San Antonio Spurs team. As the Clippers found out in their second round matchup last season, the Spurs, aging Duncan and all, are still on the short list of elite teams in the NBA. The Spurs came into Los Angeles on Wednesday night undefeated through four games, and as has been the case for the last decade or so, they are a well oiled machine, hyper efficient offensively and playing smart team defense (although they are not the defensive team they were when they were winning titles). The Clippers on the other hand have had mixed results through four contests, with convincing wins against Memphis and the Lakers to start the season, followed by two disappointing losses against Golden State and Cleveland at home. With both teams expected to compete for the Western Conference title, the table was set for a compelling nationally televised matchup at Staples center. Box score is here for anyone who missed it.
The Clippers started a bit sluggish in the opening minutes, and looked to be falling into the pattern of the last two games: slow on defensive rotations,settling for contested threes, and looking frustrated by the Spurs packing the paint. But the Clippers would settle down and find a way to start scoring the basketball. About midway through the first, the Clippers started to look inside, and simultaneously hitting some jumpers. Most notably however, they began to play with a much improved defensive effort and communication. Some credit has to go to Coach Del Negro and his staff. The Clippers were definitely more prepared tonight, and the increased defensive communication was apparent early on. In addition, the Clippers mixed up their scheme, occasionally throwing a matchup zone that gave San Antonio some trouble and cut back on their open looks at the three. Still, the Spurs were able to do a number of things well, and the passing by Duncan and Diaw really stood out. Diaw is terrific without the ball, something Lamar Odom should be trying to do. But with a balanced scoring attack led by Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin (10 pts apiece), the Clippers were able to take a 47-41 lead into halftime. This was in spite of the fact that Jamal crawford was yet to score, and Caron Butler had only chipped in two points.
In the third quarter, the defensive intensity got turned up to a new high for the season, with the charge led by Deandre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe. The Clipper rotations to shooters looked crisp, and guys were creating turnovers and looking to run. Willie Green set the tone, hitting three shots in the opening few minutes, and the Clips as a team made their first 7 shots. Although the whole team played great in the quarter, I cant overstate how effective Deandre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe were in this game (particularly in the third quarter) and it was definitely one of DJ'ss best games as a pro. 20 points on 10-12 shooting, to go with 11 rebounds and four blocks. The focus was there for Deandre tonight, and his teammates were able to reward him for his efforts, repeatedly finding him at the rim for easy buckets. Bledsoe was a nightmare for the Spurs guards, and scored a big 15 points, including the last 6 of the thrid quarter. The Clippers would eventually push their lead to 20, and it became a question of whether they would be able to hold off against the inevitable San Antonio run. Sure enough, San Antonio cut the 20 point lead the Clippers had built down to 11 points on a Stephen Jackson 3 point play. Much to the relief of Clipper Nation, the Clippers responded with a big three by Crawford, followed by a steal and a Barnes to Griffin lob for a dunk. The Clippers coasted from that point finishing with a decisive 22 point lead.
Blake Griffin was terrific tonight as well, scoring 22 points, and looked very comfortable against Boris Diaw in the block. Chris Paul was quietly masterful again, going 10-12 and dropping 12 assists. He and Bledsoe held Tony Parker to just 4 points tonight, which is a key to beating this Spurs team. Though they had a balanced attack, no Spur scored more than 12 (Danny Green). The Clippers showed tonight what they are capable of when they bring their defensive effort, but there is still room for improvement. Too often, the Clippers are switching too easily on the perimeter (sometimes well beyond the three point line), leaving the opposing team with a favorable big-small mismatch. I understand the concept of switching and helping, but there are times when the communication has to be better (see Kyrie Irving vs DJ at the end of the game against Cleveland). Offensively, the Clippers were improved tonight, and found a way to get points in the paint, both in transition and the halfcourt. That is the key to their success. This team is sure to have some ups and downs in the early going, but decisive wins against quality teams here in the early part of the season speaks well of their sheer depth and talent. Things get no easier in the coming weeks with matchups against the Bulls, thunder, and Spurs, and the Clippers would do well to try and maintain the effort and intensity they brought tonight.
For the Spurs perspective on the game be sure to check out Pounding the Rock.
|Final - 11.7.2012||1||2||3||4||Total|
|San Antonio Spurs||16||25||21||22||84|
|Los Angeles Clippers||22||25||35||24||106|