Clip­pers ex­e­cute their plan, play to strengths to han­dle Spurs in Game 1 run­away

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ben Bolch

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.”

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

CLIP­PERS POINT GUARD Chris Paul, pass­ing while pres­sured by Cory Joseph, did more dam­age shoot­ing, with 32 points.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

IN­SIDE PO­SI­TION pays off for the Clip­pers’ Glen Davis as he snatches a re­bound away from San An­to­nio’s Danny Green.

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