Prior to the game, the Clippers lost to the Spurs in 24 of their last 25 times. It continued tonight. The Spurs dominated with stellar perimeter play, every time the Clippers made a little run there would be three from Manu, Richard Jefferson or Gary Neal. Those three and Tony Parker, he of the $50 million contract extesion, combined for 67 points. Tim Duncan finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds but was no where near as tough a cover as he was even last year.
Because of injuries to Baron Davis and Randy Foye, the Clippers started Eric Bledsoe tonight hoping that he could capitalize on the positives that he brought to the team in the last game against Dallas. However, Gordon took most of the distributor’s responsibilities. He played fantastic right from the start, going 5-6 from the field, with 5 assists in the first half that was punctuated by an a swooping dunk where he hung in the air for second longer building the anticipation before jamming it down the Spurs throats.
Without Baron in the lineup, Gordon was Blake’s main screen roll partner. Whether it was because Blake didn’t have the long arms of Tyson Chandler draped all over him or because of the chemistry with Gordon is hard to tell, but Blake had 13 in the first half on 6 for 9 shooting, a huge improvement over his numbers the day before.
It was troubling that the solid play didn’t result in a halftime lead even though the Clippers looked active, enthused and they kept Tim Duncan to 4 points on 2-6 shooting. Even with Ginobili and Parker playing well, you shouldn’t expect to be down unless those two were dominating and they weren’t. Parker had 13 and Ginobili had 11. The surprise that made up for Duncan’s absence was Gary Neal, he of the preseason dagger three in Mexico City (if there is such thing as a preseason dagger). Neal scored 16 points in 18 minutes, many on momentum swinging shots.
The second half didn’t bode any better for the Clippers who continually let the lead grow and grow until they lost 97-88. It was simple and gradual and incredibly infuriating, like Chinese water torture. The Spurs kept making shots, Tim Duncan decided to make an appearance in the late third quarter and fourth even though he wasn’t operating much from that extended elbow area that he normally likes. The bench gave the team almost nothing and that was enough for the Clippers to lose ground and play another meaningless fourth quarter. The team just looked stagnant.
“We did too much dribbling and didn’t have enough movement,” Vinny said and I couldn’t agree with him more. They drummed the ball into the floor and it slowed them down, took away from some of the rhythm they established in the first half. It was the main reason that they lost Griffin in the second half even though he was so productive in the first. He works best of the screens and cutting to the basket because he often gets stranded working alone further away than just the low block. Griffin only took four more shots in the second half. One of his shots was a beautiful spin move on Duncan for a bank two but other than that, he was really quiet. It was hard for me to believe that Blake played 39 minutes because he seemed so absent in the second half. Yes, they needed to integrate Kaman into the offense, but this team has enough of a problem scoring that you would think that the Clippers could incorporate both the post threats in the game. The team needs all the scoring it can get.
In fairness, Kaman did have a good second half, even scoring on three consecutive possession in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough. Eric Gordon continued to handle the ball deftly in the absence of Baron Davis and Randy Foye, notching 11 assists but he still hasn’t found his three point shot after he went 0 for 3 tonight. I’m not sure what’s wrong, as he’s getting open looks, but he has to start making some threes for the team because he’s one of the only reliable threats.
The only other outside shooters are Ryan Gomes and Rasual Butler. Gomes found his outside shot (2 for 4 from deep) but Rasual lost his (2 for 6 from the field, 1 for 3 from deep). In fact, the whole bench unit lost their mojo as they only combined for 7 points total (5 from Rasual and 2 from Aminu).
The team has only played four games and so there is still ample time for them to turn it around, but they are displaying atrocious trends. They have only scored over 90 points once, they have lost by double digits in every game and they continually look like they don’t know with whom they are playing. At this point, the team’s whole is less than the sum of its parts. Whether or not Vinny can get this team to snap out of it remains to be determined, but their body language doesn’t speak of a team that looks to change any time soon.