San Antonio Spurs 115, Los Angeles Clippers 90: DeJuan Blair and the no fly zone


Watercolor painting by Jesse Blanchard

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.”



  • Hobson13

    Can’t really complain much about the first two games.  Spurs seemed to be playing good defense, the young players are getting minutes and playing pretty well, and Manu is one of a handful of players in the league who is a legit 25/5/5 player.  The support guys like RJ, Blair, and Anderson had really good games tonight.  Even Leonard had 8 rebs. 

    Man, it seems like the Spurs have 3 new players on the team with Splitter (who Pop sparingly played last year), Anderson (who was out for 70% of last season) and the rookie Leonard.  We go 10 deep right now and don’t even have Gary Neal playing.  Hope the Spurs can sustain the good play this year. 

    Stat of the night:  6’7″ Rookie Leonard grabs 8 rebounds in 20 minutes.  6’10” Red Rocket snags 1 big rebound in 18 minutes. 

    P.S.  I’ve been hard on Parker at certain times in the past, but tonight he shot 67% from the field and had a 9:1 assist/turnover ratio in just 26 minutes.  IMO, that’s damned near a perfect game for him. 

  • Bob

    I agree everybody but Bonner has been earning their minutes. If the Spurs could get a fifth big to replace Bonner in the rotation it would probably improve the defense. Splitter has been helping cover for him on defense.

    I am not sure how Neal will fit in. They have more than enough shot makers. We know Neal can hit shots. I think he will really need to focus on his defense and playmaking to help the team.

  • grego

    Anderson had it worse, but Splitter was also injured a lot of the season. With more time, they both look super good (although Anderson was awesome in his first 6). I guess we can say both had moments that foreshadowed this season. Feels nice. 

    I feel like with Neal added into the mix, someone is going to lose out, although that might allow Pop to rest Manu more since Neal can put up points quickly (the mini Microwave). 

    With Bonner and Leonard in the same lineup, Bonner can stay behind the arc and Leonard can crash the boards. It makes for a possible matchup advantage (if the 4 sticks to Bonner still while Kawhi has a 3) in some ways since Leonard is not a consistent shooter yet.  

  • Anonymous

    I’m with POP, the defense has been the best thing so far. The 2nd unit is really feisty on D too. Yes the big 3 are older but the Spurs got younger while no one was looking: Splitter,Neal,Anderson,Blair and Leonard.

    Other positives I see are:
    Splitter, his offensive game still needs work but he has had an impact in both games thus far. He plays D and doesn’t look lost out there like last year.

    Blair, I was not expecting that game from him. He bodied up Griffin and had a great game. I think he should pattern his game after Charles Barkely. He can become a really great player.

    Anderson, He didn’t have the best shooting game but it looks like he is picking up where he left off last season. His shot wasn’t falling but he can put the ball on the floor and make something happen. Once his shot starts falling look out.

    Leonard, Great rebounder and really uses those HUGE HANDS to keep plays alive.

    Neal, WOW! They still have NEAL  waiting in the wings.

    The Big 3 were all solid. MANU!!!!! TP had a a great 3rd quarter.

    Now let’s see if their game travels to Houston. I’m glad they won tonight because it will be tough in Houston.

  • Deeds130

    As in seasons past, Spurs look dominant when Obi-Wan Ginobili is healthy. Their biggest problem is that his body breaks down by playoff time. Will he lead the big 3 in MPG again this season, despite guard depth? For those wondering if Neal will return only to be the odd man out, I think Neal’s return will give Manu the opportunity to take some nights off during this ridiculous schedule. If RJ and TP continue to perform, that helps tremendously (obviously).

    What I don’t forsee is how the Spurs get by should the Big Fundemental get rest days. Bonner+Splitter is servicable, but neither works with Mr. Blair. Who plays with Blair if TD doesn’t dress?
    On that note, anyone who doesn’t think having legit bigs isn’t the key difference between contending or not, please consider the Mavs and Lakers combined 1-4 record.

  • Tim in Surrey

    I think your concerns about the pairing of Splitter and Blair are based on last year, but I don’t necessarily see a problem. Blair is looking quicker and more active, so he’s a lot more effective in general. And Splitter now knows where to be and can take advantage of his skills on defense. He has been a big part of these two wins, although the statistics don’t show it. I think they’ll be fine together. I do think the Spurs need another big man, but not because they can’t play Splitter or Bonner with Blair. The real reason they need one is to guard against fatigue and injuries.

  • Anonymous

    And then Blair’s next game could be 4 fouls in 10 minutes keeping him from meaningful participation.

    This is the area he has struggled with the most in his short career.  Lets hope he can reduce those types of games so the Spurs and fans can enjoy more of the type of game he played last night.

    What I also believe to be evident regarding the great D that’s being played by the Spurs (and not meaning to downplay whats been so far the best D they’ve played in a couple of years) is the fact a lot of these teams are not yet acclimated to running their offensive system.  On that note…this is the earliest in the season I’ve seen this defense gel…and they should only get better as the season matures.

    If he should grow another inch or two (he’s only 20) and develop a decent mid-range….I think it possible Kawhi could develop into another Josh Smith type of PF or a Shawn Marion type of SF.  Anderson looks every bit the steal of the draft he was claimed to be last year.  And Tiago gets to finally play significant minutes that’s only going to allow him to get better.

    Looking good Spurs.

  • Anonymous

    “On that note, anyone who doesn’t think having legit bigs isn’t the key
    difference between contending or not, please consider the Mavs and
    Lakers combined 1-4 record.”

    Agreed.  However Byum and Gasol will start playing again and the “crash” experience McRoberts and Murphy are accumulating getting used to this system is only going to help the Lakers in the long run once Bynum and Gasol do start playing again.  As far as the Mavs…that’s all on Cuban.  I don’t know how he would expect them to be “legit” contenders again with the way he dismantled his team.

    Oh well…his loss…good for Spurs.  Which by the way probably need another big as you mentioned for those games Timmy doesn’t “dress” or play significant minutes.  Without Tim….only Splitter, Blair, Bonner to man the post?  They better hope Leonard can provide some decent post game if (when) that be the case if they don’t get another legit big.

  • Nima K.

    100% FT? No Griffin alley-oops? No TO after TO? Well done Spurs!

    I wonder how Neal will fit into all this? I hope he doesnt remain sidelined.

    Lets hope the team keeps this momentum.

  • Titletown99030507d

    It’s sure showing in the Mavs without Chandler.

  • Titletown99030507d

    It’s sure showing in the Mavs without Chandler.

  • Titletown99030507d

    First off the game Blair had was a good one but really the Clippers are what they are showtime without defense. Blair flourished in a game where the opponent  primarily focuses on offense and pretty much neglects defense allowing the game to be more of run and gun type of game like we had but without the defense.. Those type of games Blair will do well but not when the Spurs meet up with a solid defensive team and slow down the tempo. You have to remember Battier and Arthur are there anymore and that hurt those Grizzlies allowing us to run up and down the court at will not to mention exploiting the paint unlike last year. I predict when the Spurs meet up with a solid defensive team Blair won’t have the luxury of getting easy baskets under the rim. But he had one perimeter shot and now he’s Charles Barkley. Keep it up Blair you just might get there. Houston will be a good test for Blair again. They are a better defensive team than the Clipps. (Slightly) As for Splitter he’s not impressing on offense like others stated but we can’t ignore what his doing on the defensive side. The more minutes he gets the better he gets. Like Pop said he doesn’t need to be top scorer he just needs to be like Orberto. One good thing going for us he’s better than Fab. I think if Blair continues to have great offensive games with the inclusion of a perimeter shot like he teased us with last night every thing will change and the Splitter /Blair pairing will be a moot point. There was a play in the game when Splitter was  in the post and instead of forcing the issue he dished it off to Blair to get a quick reverse lay up bucket. I don’t think Splitter cares about his points as long as he involves others. And if those two start getting in sync it could be a bad thing for the opponent. That’s a good thing. Hat’s off to Blair for his hustle and play.

  • Titletown99030507d

    He could help in those times that Pop really has to sit Manu because of his extended minutes. But the way I see it now he’s behind Manu and Anderson. Anderson is bigger dude and if he continues to shoot well or score the rim I’d rather have him in there because he has size over Neal and I don’t think he can score the rim like Anderson. That Anderson is a beast and can smell the rim. Just wait till KL gets on a roll oh my the older boys will be able to rest more. Also I would rather see CJ get the same number of minutes TJ gets. That TJ is too reckless. Somebody needs to give him a Xnax. I like Corey and I see him taking the backup spot behind TP if they just let him. So young, but a good ball handler, smart, can shoot and score. They need to start grooming him now and just keep TJ for insurance. Just sayin.

  • Anonymous

    Andrew do I have to login through DISQUS in order for my Avatar to show up?

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  • Andrew A. McNeill

    Yup I believe so

  • Thomasholdren

    Great game for Blair, he outplayed Splitter and Bonner to easily be the guy to start (AND LOG MINUTES) with Tim. Hope all the “analysts” on here can be quiet for a game or 2, especially the nonsense about Blair getting less minutes. 

    Tiago- still looks bad. He has literally no offensive game and is clumsy. 

    RJ- has hit HUGE shots for us in the first two games. Let me repeat HUUUUGE. His scoring has picked up our momentum and stopped the opponents on very important runs. I DO NOT WANT TO SEE NEAL come in and disrupt what Jefferson is doing. We have to find a way to get Neal in with the second unit. 

    Anderson- is a decent scorer, but he is overweight and TERRIBLE on defense. Put him on a portion control plan and work on this guy’s footwork and speed. He looks like Dr. Dre. 

    The Rookie – There has to be a new category for rebounds. When guys in the NBA rebound a foul shot, unless an offensive rebound, they should not count. No one tries to get a rebound off a foul shot. The two categories for rebounds should be “active” when players are boxing out and competing for the rebound, and another category should go for rebounds that are not competed for. 

    It is easy to say “he got 9 rebounds” when he was on the low block for 9 foul shots. Doesnt mean squat. 

    For his second game he still looked lost, love the hustle, but the skill set is very low. 

  • Anonymous

    My guess is that Neal will get playing time.  He proved too valuable last year not to get time.  I can see a rotation that has Neal at the 2, Anderson at the 3 with perhaps Kawhi seeing more time at the 4.

    In any case, the Spurs have more options this year than they had last.  It’ll all depend on match ups, but regarding Kawhi, I think he could decently play the 4 against teams that don’t have very large front court players.  He’s already demonstrating a knack for rebounding and his speed and athleticism in the post could cause problems for other team’s post players. (A Josh Smith type)

    Anderson is athletic and strong enough to play the 3 against some of the mediocre SF in this league allowing Neal to resume his role as key bench player at the 2.

    We’ll see.  I don’t think Pop will under utilize his perimeter talent and probably will have ample opportunity to insert all at key moments in games depending on need.

  • JustinFL

    I would like to see that happen during the season, but we will definetly need T.J. in the playoffs.  I like how Pop played Cory and T.J. together.  That’s smart and it gives Cory a veteran to help out on the floor.

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  • JustinFL

    Nothing personal, but I totally disagree about Tiago, Anderson, and Kawhi.  Tiago is doing the dirty work.  Someone has to do it.  I know there is no glory in help defense and setting picks, but he seems to enjoy it.  He has to get his points in the flow.  Dumping the ball down to him on the ball will stagnate the offense IMO.  I think he’s playing to his skillset and that’s all we can ask of him.
      James always seems cool, calm and collected for some reason.  And his on the ball defense isn’t bad either.  I’m getting to where I look forward to him coming into the game.
      Kawhi has his moments in the game where it feels like he is just about to do something really awesome, but it fizzles.  Don’t worry it’s coming.    

  • Nima K.

    Dude, did you actually watch the game? Or is your analysis based entirely on stats and highlights?

    Did you see how JA beat the shot clock? He’s been improving each game. And I expect him to continue that trend as he gains more and more confidence.

    Splitter wasnt really focused on offense. He was trying to be the defensive player everyone wants him to be. His role is crucial this season. Nobody can replace him on this team, neither Blair nor Bonner. Youll see that size matters, when the playoffs are here, and Blair simply can’t take the place of a 7 ft defender, no matter how well he crashes the boards. It’s simple physics. 
    So I disagree with you on JA and Tiago and our rookies. They did well, but certainly can do better. And they will. 

  • Tim in Surrey

    I’m with Nima K.–What are you talking about? First of all, have you just not watched enough basketball to see someone snatch an offensive rebound off of a foul shot? The reason it doesn’t happen very often is because of good rebounding form by the defensive team–but it does happen. In fact it’s a classic rookie mistake.

    And, like Nima, I really don’t know how you could say any of those things about the Spurs after watching those two games. But if you don’t believe us and can’t see it yourself, just read what Pop has been saying about the defense being played by Tiago and Kawhi–and then remember that he has really never been effusive in his praise of younger players (or older players, for that matter).

  • GMT

     That’s an interesting dynamic about playing Bonner & Leonard. I hadn’t thought of that. Nice.

  • Lvmainman

    Must apologize for thinking the Spurs would start 0-3.

    Ginobili, without a broken elbow, has been phenomenal. Making 3’s, taking charges, getting steals, making assists. Parker made 4 jumpers in a row, something he couldn’t do in the playoffs against Memphis. Richard Jefferson has been efficient offensively, and stopped being so hesitant. Duncan can’t score with his back to the basket against Centers – Gasol or Jordan, sad to see, but got a face up bank shot for old times sake. He’ll have to settle for jumpers and running hooks in the lane, but no post ups.

    I’ve still got questions for the Spurs.
    1. Why didn’t Pop play Splitter and Anderson more last year?
    2. Will Leonard continue to get minutes?
    3. Will Ginobili be healthy for the playoffs? (been hurt 3 of the last 4)
    4. Where is the 5th big man? (No way Spurs make it without Duncan getting rested, or someone twisting an ankle)
    5. Will increased minutes in the playoffs for Duncan and Ginobili make them more effective? (I, personally believe, they play worse in games of 33 minutes and up vs. games in which they play 28 to 32 minutes.)

  • Thomasholdren

    Nima – Please read my post. he is a shooter that is a terrible defender and has little to no lateral movement. 

  • Thomasholdren

    1st of all please highlight the abundance of these classic “rookie mistakes.” Again, the stat would be beneficial for those, like you, who say “he got a rebound.” It would put value on the rebound. 

    For instance scoring a point in a blowout game against a 4th string practice player doesnt, to me, hold as much weight as scoring against a starter or during a close game. 

    And for the record, no, I must not have watched enough NBA games to see guys “hustling” after an offensive rebound on a foul shot. Please inform me the times that this happens as I will be waiting. “good rebounding form” what does this mean? Boxing out? 

    Finally, it doesnt matter to me what POP says about whom. He’s not going to trash his hand-picked players. Remember he also values Matt Bonner… 

    These players have shown up this year: Parker, Blair, RJ, Manu

    Waiting on: Splitter, Bonner, Leonard, Neal

    – Size doesnt matter. Systems matter. Chemistry matters

  • Dr. Who

    I just condensed my long post to – Strongly disagree…

  • Dr. Who

    Um… to clarify I disagree with Thomasholdren.  JustinFL is on point.  Looking fwd to what we’ve seen from the youth so far.

  • Nima K.

    Yes, but your first sentence seemed to be comparing Blair to Splitter. And Blair IS NOT a better defender than splitter. Blair is a pretty good asset for the regular season, but he’s not a defender.

  • Anonymous

    If this was an example of weaknesses in individual player talents and chemistry and how that might apply to the Spurs this season…then I would say the Spurs have a great season that lies in front of them if they can still manage to win by 25 points playing so bad as you examined.

    Good news for Spur fans…it’s been duly noted that even if the team plays bad…they still win!!!

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