On Monday night in Los Angeles most basketball fans were focused on the Golden State Warriors – Los Angeles Lakers match-up at Staples Center, where Kobe Bryant became the first player in NBA history to have two different numbers lifted to the rafters by the same team.
Just hours before tip-off, Clippers PR announced that both Wes Johnson and Lou Williams were going to sit out the game. Johnson was noted as suffering from left foot soreness, while Williams was reported to have sustained a right ankle sprain. The news meant the Clippers would have to face the 20-10 Spurs, who just got Kawhi Leonard back, on the road without five key players: Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin, Johnson and Williams.
So who got the call for the starting five?
For the fifth game in a row the Clippers started out sluggish, and struggled to find offense. They shot 29 percent from the field despite having wide-open looks, and failed to score more than 20 points in the quarter. The Spurs, by contrast, shot 55 percent from the field, raking up 31 points. Eight players scored for San Antonio in that first 12 minutes of play. The score at the end of the first quarter was 31-17 in favor of the Spurs.
In the second quarter the Clippers defense tightened up a bit, and as a result, so did the offense. The Clippers shot a red-hot 70 percent from the field on 14-20 shooting, compared to San Antonio’s 47 percent. It would be the only quarter the Clippers would win all evening.
Willie Reed was a welcomed sight on the court in the second frame, particularly when he was paired with Montrezl Harrell. The two bigs played well together, and brought a level of intensity to the floor that is sometimes lacking with DeAndre Jordan. The duo had a number of solid plays on both ends of the court to lead the Clippers in the quarter.
A line up of Reed, Harrell, C.J. Williams, Sam Dekker and Jawun Evans brought the Spurs lead down to eight. This particular grouping was very effective; active on defense, and not afraid to go to the basket to get higher percentage shots and free throw opportunities. Despite the Clippers’ solid play, the Spurs were able to maintain their eight point lead going into halftime: 57-49. At the half, Jordan led the trailing Clippers with 9 points, with Harrell and Austin Rivers each contributing eight. Tony Parker stood out for the Spurs; he had 10 points and 5 assists. Old man Manu Ginobili added nine off the bench.
The Clippers made a solid push at the start of the third quarter, eventually bringing the Spurs lead down to two points. The Clippers got some great minutes out of their rookies, including Jamil Wilson, who found his stroke from the outside.
Unfortunately, however, Los Angeles ran out of gas midway through the third, allowing the Spurs to go on an 18-3 run. The Clippers started the final quarter in a 15-point hole that they simply could not overcome. With the loss, the Clippers fall to 11-18 for the season.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for the Spurs in the win, scoring 19 points. Parker finished with 16 points and seven assists. Leonard, who is coming off a quadriceps injury and did not play in the second half, scored just 7 points in 16 minutes, ending his streak of 110 straight games scoring in double figures.
Rookie Wilson had a season-high 13 points to lead the Clippers. Jordan also had 13 points, along with 14 rebounds.
Final— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) December 19, 2017
Dekker was a low-key bright spot tonight for the Clippers. He had 2 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in 19 minutes of play.
Rivers, who missed the Clippers’ last two games while under the NBA’s concussion protocol, did not look any worse for the wear. Despite getting into some early foul trouble, Rivers played 33 minutes and contributed 12 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds.
Milos Teodosic, who continues to ease back into the Clippers line-up as he recovers from a plantar fasciitis injury, was solid as well, finishing the game with 8 points, 5 assists and 2 steals.
Although on paper this game was a blow-out, the Clippers never stopped fighting and competing. Guys were hustling after loose balls, hitting the floor, and jawing with their opponents. The intensity was great, the competitive spirit was there, and the rookies are looking more comfortable and experienced every game that goes by. Once back to near full health, there really is no telling how competitive this Clipper squad will be.
The Clippers host the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday at Staples Center. Tip off is 7:30 PM PT. The Clippers won the first match between the franchises this season, beating the Suns by 42 points on October 20.