The San Antonio Spurs are a professional basketball team. Yet on Sunday evening in Los Angeles against the Los Angeles Clippers, in a closeout game to advance to the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs looked like they were involved in football, soccer, and boxing all at the same time.
The boxing part, the way the Spurs and Clippers exchanged leads and made different runs throughout the game. The soccer part was the Spurs’ 28-assists on their 38-made baskets. And the football part, the way the Spurs made a commitment to defense and outscored the Clippers 15-7 in the final 5:10 minutes that resembled a football team closing the game with their running-grind it out approach, as the Spurs swept the Clippers 102-99.
Tim Duncan was the leading scorer for the Spurs with 21 points, but Danny Green was key in the Spurs’ win as he held the most important responsibility in defending and limiting Chris Paul (23 points) in the final game between the two teams.
The game was a game of runs, and the Clippers began with a 7-0 run four minutes into the first quarter, as they took a 9-4 lead. The Spurs responded with a 14-0 run by playing suffocating defense and moving the ball on offense. The Spurs led 18-9 with 5:19 left, but the Clippers struck back with a 10-2 run to cut Spurs’ lead to one point. The Spurs would close the first quarter on a 6-2 run. After one, the Spurs led 26-21, but didn’t help themselves with four turnovers.
Runs continued in the second quarter as the Spurs went on a 9-2 run four minutes into the quarter to lead by 11 points. The Clippers answered back with a 14-6 run late in the quarter due to more Spurs turnovers (5), and by halftime, the Spurs led 51-47. By halftime, the Spurs were at nine turnovers, they had just 12 total in game three.
The Clippers came out of halftime with an 11-5 surge to start the third quarter, as they took the lead by four points. The third resembled a boxing match as both teams exchanged blows with baskets. The Clippers, behind Paul, closed the quarter on an 8-2 run to lead 75-74 going into the final quarter of their season. The reason the Spurs lost their lead? Turnovers (4) were once again their downfall.
The Clippers started the final quarter strongly as they built a six-point lead. Gary Neal (14 points) would stop the bleeding for the Spurs with a three pointer. Eric Bledsoe (17 points) who had disappeared since game one, came to life in the fourth as he made a three and started getting into the paint once more.
With 4:34 remaining in the game, and the Spurs down 92-89, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich once again showed why he’s arguably the best active coach coaching today. Pop elected to foul Clippers forward Reggie Evans, and the move paid off. Evans missed both free throws and the end result was an open Green three pointer on the other side for the Spurs. The Spurs would pull away behind Tony Parker (17 points) and stifling defense in the final two minutes of the game. The Clippers had two chances to either tie or win the game, but Green’s defense on Paul was too much. The first time Paul turned the ball over, the second he missed a short-fall-away jumper. From the 5:10 mark in the fourth quarter, the Spurs, who were said to be a mediocre defense, held the Clippers to just seven points. The Spurs were also said to have been untested when the game gets close, well they responded by scoring 15-points in the last 5:10 minutes.
Blake Griffin was right behind Paul in scoring with 21 points, but he needed 20 shots to get those points. He was a non-factor down the stretch because of his inability to consistently score from the perimeter. Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter both had 11 points for the Spurs in the close out victory.
The Spurs have 18-wins in a row dating back to the regular season, and they now await the winner of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers to see who they’ll face in the Western Conference Finals.
The Spurs pass (soccer), they can slug it out (boxing), and they can grind it out (football), but in basketball, they continue to do what’s the most wanted outcome in all of sports, winning.