Mar 24, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts after scoring a basket against the San Antonio Spurs the first quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs got absolutely torched by the LA Clippers
The San Antonio Spurs continued their homestand on Wednesday night as they hosted the LA Clippers for the first game of a back-to-back series. Following a tough loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night, San Antonio could have really used a win to get back on track.
Unfortunately, that would not end up being the case as the Clippers decimated the Spurs, handing them a 134-101 defeat. The Clippers came storming out of the gates, putting up an astounding 41 points in the first quarter. They slowed down after that but this was a game that they had a handle on from the beginning.
One good thing about the “homestand” type series’s that teams are playing across the NBA is that it does give teams a bit more time to prepare to face the same opponent for the second time in two nights. And if the Spurs want to avoid a repeat of last night they’re going to need to run back the tape on what went wrong and what went right in last night’s contest.
Here are three lessons that the San Antonio Spurs can take away from their recent dismantling at the hands of the Clippers.
Next: Turnovers wrecked the Spurs
Mar 24, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) looks to pass in the first quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Turnovers uncharacteristically cost the San Antonio Spurs the game
Throughout the season, the San Antonio Spurs have been one of the very best in the league at taking care of the basketball. Coming into last nights’ game they were averaging just 11.4 turnovers per game, the second-lowest figure in the NBA.
The Spurs’ impressive control over that facet of the game made their off night last night even more surprising. San Antonio turned the ball over 16 times last night, tying their third-highest mark of the season. Those turnovers would become 28 easy points for the Clippers, a boost that one of the most potent offenses in the league certainly didn’t need.
DeMar DeRozan was responsible for four of the turnovers, Drew Eubanks owns three, and Trey Lyles and Jakob Poeltl both recorded two apiece. But as a team, communication looked a bit off throughout the entire game.
When the Spurs give up that many points off of turnovers they’re putting themselves at a severe disadvantage. Without Rudy Gay and Lonnie Walker, they’re missing two of their most proficient three-point shooters. Putting themselves into a hole through the turnovers and without the players they need to mount a quick comeback, we shouldn’t be surprised that this game ended the way it did.
Cutting back on the turnovers is should be a major point of emphasis when the Spurs have their rematch with the Clippers tonight. If they match the 16 from last night they can expect a similar result.
Next: Luka Samanic needs more minutes
Mar 24, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Luka Samanic (19) shoots over Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) in the third quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Luka Samanic is demanding a spot in the San Antonio Spurs rotation
One of the bright spots in the blowout was the play of Luka Samanic. Samanic has been impressive since he was called up from the G-League earlier this year and last night was yet another example of why he deserves more playing time.
With the Spurs struggling to contain the Clippers’ offense, Gregg Popovich tried something new and put Luka into the game to start the second quarter. Luka immediately made his presence felt, quickly scoring a layup off of a well-placed Patty Mills assist.
At the end of the night, Samanic had recorded 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting while also chipping in 4 rebounds, an assist, and a steal as well. Not an overly impressive box score but the energy that Samanic played with on both ends of the floor was outstanding. He was engaged and made few mistakes on defense and showed no fear on the offensive end of the floor, frequently attacking the basket and looking for high percentage shots.
— Air Alamo (@AirAlamo) March 25, 2021
Gregg Popovich is taking notice of how Luka is playing as well. When asked about it after the game he was very complimentary of the Spurs second-year player.
“He’s beginning to prove himself deserving of time. He’s played well. He has more confidence, he’s a good athelete with good size. Hopefully he’ll continue to improve.”
Confidence is the key word there. Samanic looks drastically more comfortable on the court right now than he did during the limited opportunities he got last season and that should only continue to improve as he gains experience.
Even if the Spurs let the trade deadline slip by without making any changes I bet we’re going to see more of Luka Samanic going forward. He’s a key part of the future of this team and has proved that he can help the team win games, keeping him on the bench makes little sense at this point.
Next: Spurs need to improve perimeter defense
Mar 24, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots over San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) in the second quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs can’t keep getting burnt from outside
Coming into last night’s game it was pretty clear how the Clippers wanted to beat San Antonio and every other opponent they faced. They’re the most accurate three-point shooting team in the league, they’re going to try to beat you from outside.
As apparent as that might seem, the Spurs just weren’t able to run the Clippers off the line and force them into taking mid-range jumpers or contested looks at the rim. Marcus Morris in particular was a thorn in the Spurs’ side early on. He hit four of his five threes in the first quarter alone.
After the game, Dejounte Murray attributed some of the Clippers’ ability to get loose from outside to the attention that the Spurs paid to Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs did a solid job on George, forcing him into an 8-18 shooting performance and preventing him from making a single three-point shot. But they ignored shooters like Morris, Nic Batum, and Luke Kennard at their own peril.
There aren’t any easy answers for this particular problem. Key in on George and Leonard too much and you might let someone like Kennard or Batum get loose. Shut off the role players and you’re going to leave one of the Clippers stars with a one on one matchup and that’s not a preferred situation either.
The multi-faceted nature of the Clippers’ offense is a big part of why they’ve got the second-highest offensive rating in the NBA and are a favorite to make it out of the Western Conference. There’s no simple solution for the problems they present but one thing is certain – if the Spurs let them get as hot from outside as they were last night they will lose again.
It’s going to be a busy day around the league as teams try to get deals finalized before the trade deadline. As distracting as that may be, let’s hope the San Antonio Spurs can block out the noise and figure out what went wrong last night in preparation for tonight’s rematch with LA.