They left it closer than it should have been until the bitter end of this one, but eventually the Los Angeles Clippers saw off the San Antonio Spurs 131-126.
Gregg Popovich’s young charges gave as good as they got, showing pace and aggression as they executed time again on drives and back cuts, but eventually experience — and the presence of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George mostly — rose to the fore.
Here are the takeaways from game one of this weekend in Texas…
Defense to offense
Despite being a top five defensive team in the league for much of the first part of the season, the script has been flipped in recent weeks as Ty Lue’s squad are allowing teams to score against them at will. December 17 against the Washington Wizards was the last time they held a team to under 100 points, a span of 16 games.
Get stops!!!— Daynia La-Force (@CoachLaForce) January 21, 2023
Whether it’s a case of the coaching staff still trying to make some adjustments and us having to suffer some close yet high-scoring games for a short while remains to be seen, but if that’s the case, they are putting themselves in unnecessary danger against young, energetic teams like the Spurs.
It took their stars to dig them out of this one, but health will be a huge concern if those guys are their only way to win…
PG the PG
For far too many years, the narrative around this team is that they need a ball-handling point guard to take some of the pressure off Leonard and George, but not only has that been overblown, the Clippers are on about their third try of bringing somebody in to live up to that billing and yet PG remains far and away their best option at the one.
He showed that again in San Antonio with 12 assists, three of which resulted in wide open threes for Leonard and one resulting in an alley-oop layup. It’s clear that George’s gravity is enough to cause defenses to collapse and leave shooters open, while the team has enough good shooters to knock down those shots and enough playmaking in reserve for the minutes he’s off the floor.
Tyronn Lue repeatedly calling Paul George the point guard after tonight's game in San Antonio.— Law Murray (@LawMurrayTheNU) January 21, 2023
Which is basically what they had PG doing two seasons ago when Chauncey Billups was on T Lue's first staff.
The biggest concern is still when he and Leonard are both off the floor, with the bench unit struggling with creating their own shots and scoring the ball…
Norm a late case for Sixth Man of the Year?
If there is one bright spark among the Clippers’ reserves, though, it has been Norman Powell. Reggie Jackson still looks like he’s working himself back up to full speed and full confidence again, but in the meantime his one-time NBA Champion teammate has been carrying the scoring burden from the pine.
Though the Spurs bench scored more in this matchup, Norm’s minutes really gave the team the kind of spark they need more of and if that scoring form continues he may just be able to make a late push for some personal hardware come the end of this campaign.
You could argue he’s got some more tidying up to do on the defensive end, as with the rest of the team, but we have the perfect coach to figure things out on that side of the ball. Just as long as everything else is starting to click into place, this team might finally start to flirt with a little consistency.