For the San Antonio Spurs, losing has become an uncommon feeling since the team was fully assembled in late March. The Spurs came into Los Angeles Saturday riding a 16-game winning streak and were 2-0 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers led by 24-points at one point on Saturday, but yet the Spurs, who aren’t accustomed to losing, didn’t lose. The Spurs instead won 96-86 and are on a 17-game winning streak as they prepare to sweep the Clippers on Sunday in Staples Center.
The Spurs had their roughest first quarter of the playoffs, only scoring 11 points, but they dominated the Clippers the rest of the way for the 10-point victory. The Spurs were once again led by the “Big three” of Tony Parker (23 points, 10 assists), Tim Duncan (19 points, 13 rebounds), and Manu Ginobili (13 points), however their rookie Kawhi Leonard (14 points) was also a big contributor in the road win.
The Clippers came out aggressive in the first quarter as they used a 6-0 run early to take the lead 13-7. The Spurs couldn’t hit a jump shot convert a drive at the basket. The Clippers’ run eventually made its way to 26-4 all the way to the end of the first quarter. The Clippers led 33-11 after one, the Spurs shot 5-of-20 in the quarter and didn’t help themselves out with six turnovers.
Early in the second quarter, the Clippers’ lead grew to 24-points, but the Spurs responded with a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 18 points. Behind Duncan, Parker, and Leonard, the Spurs used a 15-5 run to end second quarter, down 53-43 at half. The Spurs limited their turnovers (2) in second quarter and outscored the Clippers 32-20. Their shooting got better as they went 11-of-16 in the second quarter. Blake Griffin was having a monster half with 20 points for the Clippers.
Push to the 9:39 mark in the third quarter, and the game had a huge turn of events. The Clippers led 57-45, but the Spurs used a defensive 24-0 run to take a 69-57 lead with under two minutes. The Clippers finally ended the run with their own 4-0 spurt, but the Spurs took a 69-61 lead into fourth quarter. The Spurs outscored the Clippers 26-8 in third, as players like Boris Diaw, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, and Gary Neal began to find their rhythm. The Clippers shot just 4-of-13 in the third, due to San Antonio’s attention to focus on defense in the third.
In the fourth quarter, the Spurs would hold a double-digit lead through the majority of the quarter. The Clippers got the lead down to seven points, but Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich went to the “hack-a-Reggie” strategy as the Spurs put Reggie Evans at the foul line to prevent a Clippers comeback. The strategy worked (Evans 3/10 free throws) as the Spurs held on for the 10-point win.
After struggling in the first quarter 33-11, the Spurs outscored the Clippers 85-53 through the rest of the game. Griffin finished with 28 points for the Clippers, but scored just eight after halftime. Paul continued to struggle to find his own shot as he scored 12 points on 17 shot attempts. Mo Williams was big off the bench for the Clippers with 19 points, but in the end it had little difference on the result of the game.
The Spurs will play game four in Los Angeles on Sunday as the series takes its first back-to-back scenario. The Spurs will be playing their eighth game in the playoffs, the Clippers will be playing their 11th game in the playoffs, and that means this series could possibly end Sunday evening.