That was a brutal game. Absolutely brutal. I don’t even want to delve into our 12 missed free throws (eight of which came from Tim Duncan) and the Los Angeles Clippers inability to miss anything. Let’s just get on with this recap before I throw something, ok?—
Player of the game: Gary Neal
Mar 9, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal (14) drives against Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) during the first half at the AT
Without incumbent point guard Tony Parker, Gary Neal was tasked with playing with the ball in his hands rather than spotting up for three’s and open midrange shots. Although Manu Ginobili’s presence eased the strenuous workload that Neal would otherwise endure, Neal still had to accomplish something to be worthy of mentioning here.
And, of course, he did. Neal scored 18 points on 5-10 shooting, grabbed three rebounds, five assists and posted a minus-11. His usual silky smooth jump shot wasn’t falling with the same regularity though. He managed to only convert one three-pointer but he did get to the line 10 times where he made seven. His plus/minus left something to be desired but other than DeJuan Blair, who only played 19 minutes, no other Spur posted a positive score.
The Clippers, rightfully so, felt they could take advantage of Neal in most pick-and-roll opportunities. They tried showing hard and going over screens but, give Neal a lot of credit here, he got rid of the ball in a timely manner without making any mistakes all night. He struggled from three-point range (1-5) but his overall efficiency, aggressiveness and ability to man the point for 34 minutes definitely kept us in the game.
Note to Clippers defenders: Don’t go under any pick-and-roll when Neal is the ball handler. It will end badly (Neal made his only three-pointer when the Clippers went under screen at the top of the key. Sorry for the vague description, I happened to jot that down in my memory and not paper).
Something to consider: The game was simply not winnable
I didn’t spend too much emotion on last night’s game. When the Clippers are playing at that level, the Spurs are not winning. Especially without Parker. I can live with losses like that. Gregg Popovich won’t live with the Clippers .512 field goal percentage but he will realize that a lot of the Clippers early offense predicated on long midrange jumpers. Eventually, as the game wore on, these open midrange jumpers turned into uncontested three-point looks and that’s precisely when the game went out of hand.
Chris Paul and Mo Williams combined for 69 points on 24-39 shooting (.615 FG%), 10 three-pointers and 11 free throws. As it was happening, I couldn’t describe their effort. It was inconceivable. Paul was floating around high pick-and-rolls all night and those simple sets net him a lot of open looks from 15 feet and beyond. As I mentioned in my game preview, Paul shoots remarkably well from any spot on the floor. That ability to make every shot prevents the defense from forcing him to one deficient area of the court. He was knocking floaters down, elbow jumpers, three-pointers, everything. William’s made a whopping seven three-pointers on the night including two monumental shots that changed the game and spawned a decisive 17-5 Clippers run.
Ultimately, you can’t expect to win on a night where the Clippers shoot 15-27 (.556 FG%) from 10-23 feet. The average NBA team has a .376 FG% from this distance. While a lot of their looks could be categorized as “good” looks, that still doesn’t discount the fact that those shots are inherently inefficient . Usually, when the Spurs dominate points in the paint (44-26) and make 12 three-pointers that is a win 99 times out of 100. This was that one time.
The good news for Spurs fans? The Spurs play the Washington Wizards on Mar. 12.