Clippers execute their plan, play to strengths to handle Spurs in Game 1 runaway
They said it would be about them, no disrespect to the San Antonio Spurs’ five NBA championships, three veteran stars or soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach.
All the Clippers needed to do, they said, was do play to their considerable strengths to do what many figured was unlikely: beat the Spurs.
The Clippers unveiled a template for what that looks like Sunday night at Staples Center during a 107-92 victory in their playoff opener.
There was Blake Griffin dunking and Chris Paul darting and Matt Barnes grappling and Jamal Crawford shooting the Spurs into submission, just like the Clippers scripted it.
Griffin unfurled a dizzying array of dunks on the way to 26 points and Paul was a game-long menace with 32 points on 13-for-20 shooting to go with seven rebounds and six assists.
“The team goes as we go and we sort of feed off each other,” Paul said. “Blake was so aggressive early and it opened it up for me.”
The Clippers will try
for a repeat performance in Game 2 Wednesday night at Staples Center.
San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich pulled his starters in the final few minutes after his team largely sputtered in the opening of its title defense. Guards Tony Parker and Danny Green combined to make two of their first 16 shots before finally heating up a bit after the Clippers had stretched their lead into double digits.
“The game was their defense was better than our offense,” said Popovich, who provided a summary after reporters’ questions weren’t to his liking. “Their aggressiveness, their physicality, their athleticism really hurt us offensively.”
The Clippers’ offense also hummed for most of the game. Crawford scored 17 points on seven-for-10 shooting for the Clippers, giving them all the production they would need from their much-maligned bench.
The Clippers’ stars made all the difference as they stretched a ninepoint lead to 18 late in the third quarter, with Paul and Crawford making three-pointers and Griffin — who also had 12 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and three steals — continuing his mastery of the Spurs’ Aron Baynes.
It was a rough third quarter for Baynes, who was victimized by not one, not two, but three vicious Griffin dunks and tumbled into a row of photographers while wrestling Barnes for a loose ball.
“They had a man contest,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said.
Griffin said he was just doing what Rivers calls “feeding the pig” by continually going to a play that worked on his dunks over Baynes.
“Most of those were off pick and rolls and he was coming off the weak side,” Griffin said. “We had a play that worked for us in the third quarter and we kept going to it.”
Kawhi Leonard had 18 points for the Spurs, whose mini-rally midway through the fourth quarter was not enough to instill any real drama back into the game.
The Clippers opened the playoffs after a five-day break created by not having played on the last day of the regular season, making them the last team to start the playoffs.
“If we’re rusty, you’re going to say it was because we had five days off,” Paul said at the morning shoot-around. “If we look good, it’s going be like, man, they were fresh.”
A long layoff seemed particularly problematic for the Spurs in the early going, as they were out of sorts while committing charges and missing point-blank shots. Green missed five of six shots and the Spurs missed all six of their three-point attempts in the first quarter.
Rivers joked before the game that Popovich had called him the previous night to inform him he would not intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan “for the sanctity of the game.”
Popovich didn’t seem to care about the quality of basketball late in the second quarter, instructing his players to foul Jordan four times.
Jordan largely shrugged off the tactic, making four of eight free throws to give the Clippers a 49-43 halftime lead.
Things would get thoroughly more enjoyable for the Clippers and their fans in the final two quarters.
“My belief is we won tonight because we just had more energy,” Rivers said. “For us to win on Wednesday night, we’re going to have to play better, and we’re going to have to execute better defensively.”
CLIPPERS POINT GUARD Chris Paul, passing while pressured by Cory Joseph, did more damage shooting, with 32 points.
INSIDE POSITION pays off for the Clippers’ Glen Davis as he snatches a rebound away from San Antonio’s Danny Green.