Los Angeles Clippers 92, San Antonio Spurs 87: SA can’t close gap down the stretch
AT&T CENTER — The Spurs won a lot of games over the years by simply keeping things close over a long night and executing down the stretch, when many observers believe it matters the most. The same scenario almost came to fruition again Monday night, as the Spurs nearly fought back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit in a 92-87 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
San Antonio came out of a timeout with just under six minutes left in the game facing a seven point hole with two players (Matt Bonner and Manu Ginobili) who hadn’t seen much crunch time ball this season. After an Eric Bledsoe tip-in made it a nine-point game, the Spurs got five quick points from Bonner. Just a couple minutes later, Bonner knocked down his second 3-pointer to bring the Spurs within two at 87-85.
The problem, though, was rebounding. As the Spurs’ core aged and this went from being less of a defensive team and more of an offensive one, the “stops on demand” that was a theme with this franchise went away. Against the Clippers, getting stops wasn’t the issue. It was finishing plays with defensive rebounds.
With Kawhi Leonard out of the game and Stephen Jackson gone early with a broken pinkie finger, the Spurs were forced to deploy a lot of three guard sets. When the Spurs went to Bonner late in the game in an effort to space the floor better offensively, it left only Tim Duncan as the Spurs’ real rebounding presence.
San Antonio played good ball defense and ushered the Clippers into many missed shots, but gave up three offensive rebounds to Bledsoe in the final five and half minutes, two of which were converted into second chance points.
“Of all our games, this was in the ‘soft’ category,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the game.
The way the Spurs lost the game was made worse by the fact that the Clippers went small. Say what you want about Bonner, but he’s still 6’10”. The Clippers’ crunch time lineup featured Blake Griffin, who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, at center and Matt Barnes at power forward.
It was all the more frustrating that the man getting the offensive rebounds that could be considered the difference in the game (Bledsoe) was one of the smallest players on the floor at 6’1″. Pop’s appreciation for Bledsoe aside, his nine points and five rebounds were key for Los Angeles.
“We can’t expect Timmy and DeJuan to take every rebound,” Tony Parker said postgame.
On the night, the Spurs were out-rebounded 52-42 and the Clippers had four more offensive rebounds than San Antonio. As a result, the Clippers beat the Spurs 20-8 in second chance points.
Now the Spurs head out on a six game road trip missing both the team’s small forwards. The 15th roster spot is available to bring someone in, but it’s looking more and more likely that San Antonio will finish November with little in the way of a size advantage.
- Jackson broke his pinkie reaching for a loose ball in the first quarter. He ended playing through it for another couple of minutes, even leaving the game and checking back in, but left after the first quarter and never returned. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
- After a painfully slow start to the season, Manu Ginobili’s shot is starting to come around. He’s had much more arc on his shots the last two games, going 6-10 from 3-point range in the process. Against the Knicks last Thursday, Ginobili’s were devastatingly flat.
- To say the officiating in this game was rocky is an insult to the the geological formations, ice cream and Sylvester Stalone movie. There were some terrible calls in this game, including a play where an offensive foul on Ginobili where Manu cut through the lane and stopped in front of Matt Barnes, that was originally called a flagrant foul and had to be reviewed. The call being downgraded to a plain old offensive is what you call the lesser of two evils. It was dubious. That said, the Spurs were still in position to win this game and the refs can only be blamed to a certain extent. In the end, the players play.