When the core of the roster has been a mainstay for so many years, it can be common to find flaws in the same areas even as the team looks to improve on them. Perhaps that is what makes the loss to San Antonio such a disappointment; sure, it comes on the tail end of a road-and-home back to back, which can be daunting in itself, but the inefficiencies of the second unit and on the glass harken back to the same areas that the team has struggled in recent seasons.
That puts a lot on the shoulders of a returning superstar such as Chris Paul, and much like the few games at the beginning of Blake Griffin’s comeback from injury, there just wasn’t enough collectively to take the night.
X-Factor: Being the second night of a back-to-back, there was a high chance of sloppiness or fatigue seeping into the Clippers play, and the Spurs capitalized. LA had trouble securing rebounds on the San Antonio end, and would ultimately lose the rebounding battle 51-36. The Clippers also found themselves in foul trouble repeatedly, with their 26 fouls leading to 30 free throws for the Spurs. And while they only had 12 turnovers for the game, 20 points were scored off of those turnovers.
Major Moment: With 7:13 left in the third quarter, Kawhi Leonard picked up his fifth foul of the contest. Sent to the bench, the Clippers built a 9-point lead while the Spurs’ MVP-candidate had to ride the pine, but it became undone as San Antonio would go on an 18-4 run in the last 3:57 of the quarter to take a 4 point lead into the game’s final frame.
The Definition: The Clippers have suffered from mental lapses in their brief return from the All-Star break, doing themselves no favors as they fall further behind Houston and now Utah as they seek to move up to the third seed. That said, their last two games were the most difficult among the games left in the schedule. With a remaining schedule that is heavy on home games and sub.-500 teams – not to mention an earlier than expected return by Chris Paul and their history of strong finishes to the regular season – it’s far too soon to lock in a potential second-round matchup against Golden State.