San Antonio Spurs 115, Los Angeles Clippers 90: DeJuan Blair and the no fly zone
AT&T Center–For all the hoopla surrounding Lob City, of dreams of alley-oops and aerial wonderment, basketball is a game of positioning and the Los Angeles Clippers still aren’t very good at it.
The San Antonio Spurs were having none of the alley-oops and throw downs that made Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan overnight sensations last season, countering the Clippers vertical game by making it a horizontal one–proving running up and down the court is more important the jumping up and down through the air. And at the helm of it all was San Antonio Spurs floor bound forward DeJuan Blair.
Blair did an excellent job of running the floor, establishing early position on both sides of the court, and finding angles on his way to 20 points on 10-15 shooting and six rebounds (four offensive).
“[Griffin] and DeAndre [Jordan] are very athletic and they keep going after every board,” Blair said. “But Me and Timmy, we do the same thing, we just don’t jump as high as them. They have to box me out too.”
And for much of the night the Los Angeles Clippers failed. For all the potential the Clippers boast, they struggle with some of the most basic fundamentals of basketball. Transition defense (the Spurs had 20 fast break points), rebounding (outrebounded 43-30), closing out on shooters with proper technique (the Spurs shot 10-19 on three-pointers and were fouled on two occasions wildly closing out on shooters) were all negatives for former Spur Vinny Del Negro’s team.
“Basketball in its purest sense is a pretty simple game, and executing in different aspects of the game is what helps teams win,” said San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
In a clash of raw potential and athleticism versus experience and intuitiveness, the Spurs carved up the Clippers with equal parts defense and offensive spacing, movement, and passing (27 team assists). Manu Ginobili (24 points, six assists) and Tony Parker (14 points, nine assists) repeatedly carved up the Clippers defense, taking advantage of an inexperienced team all too eager to watch the ball and all too quick to lose track of their man.
Taking full advantage of it was DeJuan Blair, whose main offensive strengths are his brutish strength combined with an innate feel for the game. He and Manu Ginobili rekindled the two-man game that flourished so much of last year. In the starting lineup with Ginobili and Tim Duncan, the Spurs have a trio capable of reading the defense quickly, great interior passing, and an ability to make things happen in the flow of a game sans any structured plays.
“[DeJuan Blair] is always looking for the ball, duking in, running in transition for a fast break,” Ginobili said. “I like playing with him.”
And regarding Blair’s ability to finish in the paint over defenders much taller, and much more athletic than him?
“He’s done it all his life, he doesn’t know any other way to do it and he’s very good at it,” Tim Duncan said. “He’s got great touch, a great feel for the game that you can’t teach other people. He just knows how to do it.
“He brings us some of those points you don’t really count on right there.”
While the Los Angeles Clippers had trouble keeping track of Blair, the San Antonio Spurs had no such problems on their defensive end. Two games into the season the Spurs have pleased head coach Gregg Popovich with an active, intelligent brand of defense. The Spurs essentially neutered the Clippers Lob City moniker, not even presenting the opportunity for an alley-oop.
They cut off angles, drew charges, and generally made life hell for the Clippers starting backcourt of Chris Paul (10 points on 3-10 shooting, nine assists) and Chauncey Billups (11 points, 2-5 shooting). By cutting off all roll angles on pick and rolls with Griffin and Paul–daring Griffin to shoot–they allowed Griffin to get his 28 points but muted his overall impact on the game. In all the Clippers were held to 39.2% shooting and 10 offensive rebounds.
“The defense has been very good, I’m most pleased with that,” Popovich said. “Hopefully we can continue it and get better.”