Before tonight’s game, much was made of the San Antonio Spurs’ rest as they waited eight days to see who they’d play in the second round of the playoffs.
The rest vs. rust debate was put to sleep early. If there was any rust, the Spurs shook it off very quickly on their way to a 108-92 Game 1 victory.
“It was hard to start. We were a little sluggish at the beginning, especially at the defensive end,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “Then we picked up and from the second quarter on we improved. You never know if it is rust, a slow start, or bad game.”
The Spurs definitely started piking things up. Midway through the first quarter, they went on a quick 12-3 run to take a six-point lead. The Clippers fought back, behind a Nick Young three-pointer and a last second pull-up jumper to tie it up at the end of the first.
After Young, the former Washington Wizard, hit another three with eight minutes left in the half to give the Clippers the lead, the Spurs countered by bringing Tim Duncan back into the game, who lead them on a 9-0 rally and never looked back the rest of the quarter. A Danny Green three-pointer punctuated the Spurs’ second quarter.
While Caron Butler did his best to keep the Clippers afloat in the third quarter, scoring 13 points, it was clear he was working alone against a Spurs team that got big third quarter efforts from three of their starters and Manu Ginobili off the bench. Eric Bledsoe scored six quick points at the end of the quarter to cut into a 19-point deficit, but the Clippers had dug themselves into a 15-point hole by the time the horn sounded at the end of the quarter.
They did have one more run in them though. After Stephen Jackson opened up the fourth with a three-pointer, the Clippers scored the next eight points before Kawhi Leonard got to the free throw line. Duncan, who had just been subbed in for Tiago Splitter, carried the Spurs the rest of the way for their 15th straight win.
“Tim was solid as usual. He’s played like that all year long,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s not going to do anything that’s going to be on a highlight film for TV, but highlight film for coaches possibly. Just being solid, making a great pass, playing the defense that he did, rebounding. He’s the anchor.”
For as much as the series was built up to be a a matchup of two of the league’s best point guards, Tony Parker and Chris Paul, both guards had to pass in order to make an impact in the game. Green chased around Paul all night, limiting him to six points on 3 of 13 shooting from the field, while Paul and Bledsoe frustrated Parker (7 points) and cut off his drives.
“They were physical. They played tough. They did well. I think Tony and Danny did a good job on Chris Paul and Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe did a hell of a job on Tony,” Popovich said. “So it’s both ways. Just look at the stats for both those guys. They’re probably both scratching their heads.”
Ginobili, who struggled through the first three games against the Utah Jazz, had what is likely the best game of his playoffs, finishing with 22 points off the bench and said the Spurs didn’t need Parker to be a big scorer tonight.
“He didn’t score, but he got 11 assists. That’s who we are. Sometimes it is not going to be him, sometimes it is not going to be Tim,” Ginobili said. “If we move the ball well and we find our open teammates, we are going to make shots. Today we shot 52 percent from the three. We really do not care if he is the one scoring 25 points. The important thing is to move the ball, attack and kick and find the open teammate. We did that very well.”
While the Spurs certainly have room for improvement before Game 2, especially on turnovers, they got big nights from all of their starters aside from Parker.
Duncan continued his throwback tour with 26 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots, dominating any Clippers defender he was matched up against, including Kenyon Martin, DeAndre Jordan and Reggie Evans..
Kawhi Leonard seemed to be everywhere, knocking down three-pointers, rebounding and picking off passes, good enough for 16 points, six rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot.
Boris Diaw had the biggest defensive assignment of the night against blake Griffin. Once again Diaw showed off his versatility, affecting Griffin’s shots, locking him down on several possessions, knocking down a big three, stealing the ball and finding teammates. Diaw finished with seven points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and one blocked shot.
Diaw continues to look like one of the most unheralded, but most important moves the Spurs made around the trade deadline.
“That was unexpected. They are a great rebounding team and they have great size. They start with Griffin and Jordan and then they bring Evans and Kenyon,” Ginobili said. “They have size and they are all usually tough on the boards. Boris and Tim were fantastic today. They played great defense.”
The Spurs will look for a 2-0 lead on Thursday night for an 8:30 p.m. Game 2 start.