It was a game until it wasn’t.
The LA Clippers lost their third consecutive game against the San Antonio Spurs following a turnover-plagued, offensive drought during the third quarter. After mounting a 10-2 run during the fourth to pull the game to a more respectable margin, they simply couldn’t stop the Spurs amidst excellent ball movement and outside shooting.
Entering tonight’s matchup, the Spurs had shot just 34.4% from beyond the arc on the season, while ranking just 29th in attempts per game with 22.1. Tonight, they shot 53.6% from outside on 28 attempts. All night, from open tip, the Spurs were able to utilize ball-fakes and drive-and-kicks to get shooters wide open looks. The Clippers had trouble switching on screens and dribble penetration that resulted in good 3-point looks all night, often jumping right at shooters. The three-ball is here to stay, so the Clippers will need to improve significantly and avoid getting baited into leaving their feet, especially as shot clocks wind down for their opponents.
Rudy Can’t Fail
Despite not being the most agile or effective scorer, Rudy Gay seemed to get whatever he wanted all night long. It wasn’t until late in the third quarter that the Clippers began properly contesting jump shooting by Gay (though he still couldn’t miss). Danilo Gallinari’s size was certainly missed tonight, as Gay was often the beneficiary of switch or help defense by outsized opponents Sindarius Thornwell, Austin Rivers, and even Patrick Beverley. Gay finished with 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 shooting from behind the arc.
Rivers in the Third
About the only thing that went right during the third quarter was Austin Rivers’ scoring. The Clippers were outscored 40-21 in the quarter, with Rivers tallying 10 during the stretch, nearly half the team’s total points. The Clippers had moved away from the ball movement they had utilized so effectively during the first half, with many of Rivers’ points coming from crafty isolation and sheer heroics. Rivers led the way for the Clippers, and would finish the game with 24 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals.
Despite the loss, there were some encouraging signs from the Clippers. For much of the game, despite only tallying 20 assists on 42 made field goals, the Clippers moved the ball exceptionally well. The Clippers exercised something that we hadn’t seen enough of this season: pump-fakes followed by drive-and-kicks out to perimeter shooters. Blake Griffin, who finished with just 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting, drove into the paint many times with the sole purpose of drawing defenders and kicking out to open men. This was even a new wrinkle in DeAndre Jordan’s game, who, despite a lone assist in the matchup, caught multiple passes down low only to kick the ball right back out to open shooters. While the shots didn’t all fall and while it seemed a tad careless at times, this is good news for the Clippers, who are beginning to capitalize on some of the untapped potential of their big men.
In addition, the Clippers rebounded the ball very well, as they have all season thus far. In very un-Clippers fashion, they rank 1st in offensive rebounding this season. Eliminating transition leak-outs and giving themselves the opportunity for second-chance points is a very welcomed sign.
The Clippers have a couple rest days before they must face the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday. The Thunder like to play with pace, shoot the ball a lot, and create in transition. The Clippers will need to regroup and avoid a fourth straight loss that would bring them below the .500 mark for the first time in a very long time.
For now, though, it’s not time for panic; it’s important to remember that it is early I the season, and it will be a process for this overhauled roster to learn to play together and continue to shore up on their mistakes. Let’s also hope for a healthy Gallinari on Friday night!