Three-pointers: Clippers turn up the defensive pressure, outpace Spurs
By Rob Mahoney
A matchup of Western Conference powers ended up a decisive open-court blowout. The Los Angeles Clippers have had an up-and-down start to their 2012-13 season, but rode one of their brightest performances of the season to a 106-84 win over the San Antonio Spurs.
• This game was an unusual one, if only because the Clippers were able to make the Spurs look as old and slow as San Antonio’s reputation suggests. So long as Tim Duncan suits up in a Spurs uniform, many will associate his team with plodding, measured play — even if such a characterization hasn’t been valid since 2010. You wouldn’t know it from Wednesday night’s game, but the Spurs of today are an offensive powerhouse equipped to outrun and outscore even elite competition.
That makes the two-way efforts of the Clippers on Wednesday night all the more impressive, as Los Angeles capitalized on every sputter of San Antonio’s offense en route to posting a fully dominant performance. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan offered up a sampling of their collective defensive potential, and rebuffed drive after drive by way of emphatic blocks and great positioning. On the other end of the court, Griffin, Jordan, and the Clippers very literally sprinted past the Spurs to score at a marvelous rate of 114 points per 100 possessions. The gap in athleticism could not have been more glaring; for whatever reason, the Clips were simply playing this game at an entirely different speed, and used stilted matchups, forced turnovers, and long rebounds as opportunities to exploit their natural advantage.
• The speed of the Clippers’ ball-handlers highlighted a familiar problem for the Spurs: the inconsistency of their defensive rotations. Tim Duncan may still be mobile enough to defend a pick and roll with balance and ease, but the rotation of the Spurs’ non-Duncan bigs are usually either late or begetting a further defensive lapse; in the cases that a Tiago Splitter or DeJuan Blair is able to hedge effectively on a pick and roll or rotate on time to contest a shot in the lane, the subsequent rotation — typically made by the other big on the floor — often offers opposing teams a point of vulnerability.
That blueprinted weakness created the bulk of the Clippers half-court offense on Wednesday. Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe broke down the Spurs’ initial line of defense easily enough, drew a rotation, and found DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin for easy looks in the lane. By the fourth quarter, such sequences were seemingly an exercise in rote memorization. Bledsoe surges past Gary Neal, San Antonio scrambles, Los Angeles scores. It was honestly that easy for the Clips, much to the credit of their playmakers’ recognition and execution.
• It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where things fell apart offensively for San Antonio, but the end result of the Spurs’ bungled mechanics was a massive turnover margin. San Antonio gave the ball up on over 20 percent of their offensive possessions — a number that would have easily registered as the worst in the league a season ago, and that if applied consistently would turn one of the NBA’s best offenses into a far less formidable outfit.
Some of the blame for those wasted possessions falls to the Spurs’ stars, who ultimately failed to create quality looks during the first three quarters; Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili simply weren’t able to manipulate L.A.’s defense enough to provide an adequate offensive foundation, and combined for a pedestrian 23 points on 7-of-23 shooting from the field. But San Antonio’s role players have to be more careful with little things like picking up their dribble prematurely or throwing up silly, crosscourt passes. This game was very winnable for the Spurs well into the fourth quarter, but San Antonio’s usually effective bench piled up 13 turnovers and mitigated plenty of situational momentum.
Put simply: this level of possession mismanagement was a true team effort, befitting the Spurs thematically if not stylistically.