Despite some sloppy play that let the Spurs hang around, the Clippers made enough plays to pull out their third straight win, and second in San Antonio.
The Clippers were up 4-0 with a couple solid offensive and defensive possessions, but then things took a turn for the sloppy. Neither team could do much on offense in the halfcourt, with the Clippers scoring primarily in transition. The Clippers were up 16-8 halfway through the period when the bench started checking in. The input of fresh blood did not impact the quality of the game, however, which remained a bit messy. Nonetheless, the Clippers were more competent than the Spurs, and led 26-14 after one.
The modified bench unit with PG anchoring continued the Clippers’ lead, with Paul George doing the bulk of the scoring. His sizzling jump shooting had the Clippers up 17 at one point, with the Spurs’ shots finally dropping to keep them attached. A quick 5-0 Spurs run to get the lead down to 12 brought the Clippers’ starters back in at the 6:12 mark. The Harden-Zu pick and roll generated good looks for the Clippers, but they couldn’t convert. Late in the quarter, the Spurs finally made a run, and got it all the way back to 54-48.
Kawhi Leonard was the go-to option early in the 3rd for the Clippers, as Paul George cooled off over halftime. Harden found him multiple times for easy looks around the rim, especially in transition, and the Clippers were humming on offense. Unfortunately, the Spurs kept pace, with their own offensive skills returning. That changed in the middle part of the quarter with Wembanyama out, as the Clippers went on a 14-0 run with their starters and Harden-Kawhi + bench unit in to get the lead up to 18. Just as in the first half, however, the Spurs closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to keep the deficit at 12 entering the 4th.
The Clippers maintained their usual rotations to start the 4th (except for Amir Coffey replacing Norm Powell, who had groin soreness), and the new rotations continued to work, with the Clippers holding a lead in the low-mid teens for the early part of the period. At around the 7-minute mark, Ty Lue brought the starters back – but kept Russ in instead of Mann. While Terance hadn’t shot the ball well, this unit (the Clippers’ previous starting group) again showed its worth (that is, bad) by giving the Spurs a 17-6 run to make things a bit close down the stretch. The Clippers made just enough shots and free throws to pull out the win, but it was less comfortable than it should have been.
Mann Misfiring: While Terance has overall played well this season and with this new starting unit, he was 0-3 from deep in this one and just can’t buy a long ball. He’s now just 2-17 from three this year, and teams are leaving him open. He’s a proven enough shooter at the NBA level that the shots will start to fall – the big thing with him is that he needs to keep shooting them. His defense, rebounding, and lack of need to have the ball in his hands is useful with the starters, and if he starts making his threes then the offense should really start to zing.
Efficient Kawhi: Outside of the Lakers game Kawhi Leonard has not truly “gone off” this season, but I thought this game was his best offensive showing outside of that. He scored 26 points on 17 shots, and was there every time the Clippers needed a bucket. He’s finally starting to figure things out with this new roster, and his defense is as active as ever. Hopefully a true scoring breakout comes soon.
Amir Time: Amir Coffey played 10 minutes in the second place instead of Norm, as mentioned above, and acquitted himself quite well. He scored four points on a couple nice drives to the hoop, had a couple strong rebounds, and forced a steal that led to a transition bucket. His defensive skills and ability to get downhill on offense remain useful on this team, and I hope he gets more shots in the rotation this year.