When the game was over and Chris Paul was changing in the visitors locker room of the AT&T Center in San Antonio, his 2-year-old son, Chris, came up to him and said, “You did a good job.”
Paul, putting on his suit, corrected him and said, “No, I did a bad job.”
The San Antonio Spurs had just defeated the Clippers 108-92 in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series, and Paul was still upset at himself for finishing with just six points on 3-of-13 shooting along with five turnovers, five steals, three assists and 10 rebounds.
“He don’t know no better,” Paul said of his son. “I got every shot that I wanted and I think that’s the good thing about tonight. I didn’t knock them down but that happens sometimes. This is Game 1; we’re going to go back to the drawing board and see what we did well and see what we didn’t do well and get ready for Game 2.”
As upset as Paul was with his performance, there was no real reason to believe the Clippers would beat the Spurs on Tuesday night. Every statistical analysis, historical comparison and logical reasoning going into the game said the Spurs would win and it wouldn’t even be close.
Over the past 20 years, when teams playing with six or more days off play a team with one day of rest, they are 8-0 in the postseason with an average winning margin of 21.6 points. The Spurs, coming off an eight-day layoff, also had won their previous 14 games, winning by an average margin of more than 17 points. And the Spurs had lost just once to the Clippers in San Antonio over the past decade, including an 18-game winning streak prior to this season.
Although the final score might not indicate it, the Clippers came out with more fight than most would have expected of a team that had just played a Game 7 on the road 48 hours earlier. The Clippers held a lead in the second quarter, and even after the Spurs took a 19-point lead to start the fourth quarter, the Clippers stormed back and were within eight points with less than eight minutes left in the game.
“If you’ve watched them, they always come back,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They don’t fold. That’s just a credit to their team. They just keep on playing and stick within the system, and they’ve come back many, many times, as we’ve all seen. That’s who they are.”
The Clippers have come back from double-digit deficits 15 times this season, which is the most in the league, but they wouldn’t be able to recreate their Game 1 “Miracle in Memphis” in San Antonio. Not when Popovich was calling timeouts during the Clippers’ run, and berating every player and cameraman in sight until San Antonio finished the game on an 18-10 run to comfortably pull away as Paul and Blake Griffin finished the game on the bench.
“They are pesky,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said of the Clippers. “They are tough. They pressure you. They force you to turn the ball over. They do that very well. They are that kind of team that pressures the ball and forces you into making bad decisions. It’s something we’re going to have to improve.”
Not only were the Clippers hurt by a rested Tim Duncan, who scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but they were hurt by San Antonio’s outside shooting, which did not show any ill effects from an eight-day layoff. The Spurs connected on 13 3-pointers, which tied the franchise playoff record, set in 2007. Against Memphis, the Clippers gave up 24 3-pointers over the seven-game series. The Clippers also have to shore up their effort on the offensive boards, as they once again were outrebounded overall 47-34. The Clippers now have given up at least 11 offensive rebounds in seven of their past eight postseason games.
“They just beat us,” Paul said. “We didn’t play effective.”
The lone silver lining for the Clippers was the play of backup guard Eric Bledsoe, who scored a career-high 23 points, and had five rebounds, four assists and three steals. Nick Young added 13 points off the bench for Los Angeles. The Clippers’ “Goon Squad” of Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans likely will not be as effective against the Spurs as they were against Memphis. San Antonio will spread the Clippers out, and essentially take Evans and Martin out of the game by forcing them to play in the middle and run out to 3-point shooters. Case in point, Evans played only 8 minutes Tuesday, and finished with four fouls, three rebounds and zero points.
In the end, Tuesday’s Game 1 could prove to be a microcosm of this entire series. The young, scrappy Clippers will play the Spurs tough and give them a good challenge but simply won’t have enough to finish off a team that has won 117 playoff games and four championships over the past 15 years, which is second only to the Los Angeles Lakers. Meanwhile, the Clippers just won their second playoff series since 1976, 48 hours ago.
This series might end up being more about gaining experience and building for the future as much as it is pulling another upset for the Clippers. Just don’t tell that to Paul, who still remembers being ousted by the Spurs the only other time he advanced past the second round, four years ago.
“We missed a lot of bunnies; we missed a lot of little layups and floaters in the lane,” Paul said. “We didn’t get to the free throw line enough. We came in here in the locker [room] and felt like there were some good things that we did. We just have to stay the course.”