Let’s Talk About the EndWe should probably begin with the end, and just get it over with. With about 3:30 left in the game, the Clippers found themselves down by 7 points, hope fading more quickly with each passing second, when they made a run. Led by Chris Paul’s brilliant and-one against Tim Duncan, our boys in red and blue cut the lead to 1 with only 7 seconds left on the clock and the ball in-hand. Blake miraculously found himself wide open for a floater down the middle, and as it was rolling around the rim, about to go in… DeAndre Jordan brushed the ball with his finger. It was the right call, but it was still damn unfortunate. The Spurs even graciously missed a free throw on the other end, but the Clippers were unable to secure it and saw the game slip away and out of reach (an ending not unlike game 2, disgustingly enough).
Let’s Talk About the OfficiatingNow before we go on, let’s just get it out of our system so we don’t have to speak about it again: the officiating was just terrible. In the first half, Matt Barnes was called for an offensive goaltending that very clearly wasn’t, upon looking at the replay (there was a good inch between the ball and the cylindrical area above the rim). Later, Blake Griffin was called for traveling on a horrible call that stopped a badly needed bucket during a cold spell. Then there was a completely pathetic Ginobili flop that gave JJ Redick his 5th foul, which was huge when the Clippers found themselves in need of shooters in the final minutes of the contest. And let’s not forget Kawhi Leonard’s Chris-Paul-style sweep-through that somehow got him a pair of free throws that Chris Paul never sees.
But the Clippers had their chances. The officials had nothing to do with the Clippers shooting 7.1% from deep, JJ Redick and Austin Rivers going a combined 1-4 from the line, Blake missing two huge free throws in the fourth quarter, or every single Spurs shooter being completely wide open at the three point line throughout the game. Blaming the referees is convenient, and it’s what the players seemed to do all game, but the Clippers had their chances; they just failed to execute.
Let’s Talk About the Good SignsOkay, we’ve ripped off the band-aid and we can actually talk about the game now. There were some great signs in this game. Blake Griffin looked completely unstoppable for all but the last few minutes he was in the game, but especially the first quarter. He was a monster, scoring at will, making plays for his teammates, and generally keeping the Spurs on their heels any time he was in the game. The problem is, he got completely gassed in the last 5 minutes of regulation, and it hurt the Clippers.
Chris Paul also looked very sharp, as the only Clipper with a positive plus-minus for the game. He was the steady hand that kept the Clippers in the game, even when things looked rough. He paced himself better than Blake, so he was able to come up with some big buckets in the clutch.
DeAndre Jordan had a solid game as well, generally deterring the Spurs from scoring at the rim, while doing plenty of scoring of his own, helping the Clippers to a 56-34 edge on paint points. He even responded well to the Hack-a-DJ strategy, hitting almost 50% of his free throws. The strategy actually netted Popovich a +3 point edge, but that had more to do with bad Clipper defense than DJ missing shots.
JJ Redick found his stroke, and while he didn’t attempt a three in 42 minutes on the court, he made seemingly everything else. It seems he’s found a way to be effective offensively against the Spurs again. And Glen Davis was tremendous in the 11 minutes he played. Frankly, he probably should have gotten more and given Blake a rest, but he did damage in his limited time, getting the crowd into it when necessary and setting fantastic screens.
Let’s Talk About the Bad SignsDoc Rivers simply can’t trust the bench. Not at all. The Spurs went 11 deep, and their reserves outscored the Clipper bench 48-17. That’s just unacceptable. Austin Rivers shot 1-4 for 2 points and missed two huge free throws in the fourth quarter. He and Crawford were pretty ineffective the entire game.
Jamal Crawford shot 4-15 for 8 points and missed all 6 of his three point attempts (all but one were just horrible step-back jumpers, too). He was worse than Austin, though. Due to foul trouble, or Doc just having a bad coaching day, Jamal found himself in the game for large stretches in the second half. And boy, has he gotten bad at defense. If he wasn’t getting beat off the dribble, he was failing to fight through screens, leaving shooters open. If he wasn’t rotating late, he was fouling someone at just the wrong time. Still, he hit some big buckets near the end, and had he made them, I would have forgotten all prior sins.
The Clippers just couldn’t find the bottom of the net from beyond the arc. Although the Spurs allow a pretty high percentage of three pointers made (36%, 24th in the league), they are the best in the league at running players off the line (less than 19 per game, compared to the Clippers who allow almost 24 per game).
Hack-a-DJ reared its ugly head again, and it was just as annoying as always. It may seem like Popovich hates entertaining basketball, but let’s just pretend he’s doing this force the league’s hand, and finally remove the tactic from the game.
Still, the Spurs are just plain good. Duncan is never going to need to retire, considering he's still producing with a wooden left leg. Kawhi Leonard is just getting so good at making contested jumpers, it's unfair. And if Patty Mills is going to shoot 100% from three every game, the Clipper bench doesn't stand a chance. (To be honest, I know there's some flip floppery going on, but if the Spurs advance, I'll probably root for them to make it to the Western Conference Finals, just so I can see some pretty basketball.)
Let’s Talk About the What’s NextSo can the Clippers bounce back? Sure they can. On the whole this series, they’ve basically played the Spurs evenly, regardless of location. Each team had one blow-out, but the rest were close matches. The Clippers have already won in San Antonio, and they have the talent to do it again. If they let this game get them down, like they did with game 2, they could risk getting destroyed in San Antonio and end up spending the rest of the summer at home. But I truly don’t think that will happen. They know the urgency they have to play with, and they know that all they have to do is play their game and take the same good shots they took today, to have a fighting chance. The defense will need to tighten up as well, and the bench will need to start producing at least to season averages; but it’s all very possible.
The Clippers can still win this series, and it starts on Thursday in San Antonio. Don’t lose hope, Clipper fans. These games, and this series, has been so close, anything can still happen.
You know, as long as Bill Kennedy never officiates another Clipper game again.
(I guess I was lying when I said I wouldn't bring that up again.)