LOS ANGELES -- The San Antonio Spurs have a better bench this season according to coach Gregg Popovich, which should allow him to better manage the minutes he rations out to veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and preserve their aging legs.
Parker had 19 points and nine assists in the Spurs' 97-88 victory on Monday night, their 17th straight over the Clippers. Richard Jefferson scored 18 points and reserve Gary Neal had 16. San Antonio's reserves outscored their Clippers counterparts 25-0 before rookie forward Al-Farouq Aminu got the first points by the Los Angeles bench on a layup with 10:07 to play.
Brazilian rookie Tiago Splitter, the first player off the Spurs' bench, scored his first points but spent only 7 minutes on the court during the first three quarters and scored his only points on a driving dunk 27 seconds in. The basket triggered an 8-2 spurt that increased San Antonio's lead to 83-67 with 9:05 to play.
"Our bench is a lot better. If Gary Neal and James Anderson can keep playing like that, our bench is going to be pretty good this year," Parker said. "Gary made some shots and James made some shots and played some good defense. That's all we can ask. Now we just need somebody inside, so we hope that Tiago can learn fast and bring positive plays every time he's in."
Splitter is one of three rookies coach Gregg Popovich is going with in his rotation, along with Anderson and Neal.
"I think he has to. After all those years with so many vets, I think it's time for us to rebuild," Parker said. "We have great young guys, and we have to throw them into the fire -- like Pop did with me and Ginobili when we first came up. We have to be patient with them. Obviously we're going to have to live with their mistakes, but at the end of the day, they'll make more good plays than bad plays."
Neal, who was struggling with his jumper during the preseason, is 9-for-16 from the field during his first three NBA games.
"I'm feeling pretty good about my game," he said after making six of 10 shots overall and four of eight from 3-point range. "Since I got here, Coach Pop has given me the green light to shoot open shots. So if that doesn't make you feel comfortable, nothing will."
Eric Gordon had 23 points and a career-high 11 assists for the 0-4 Clippers, who have dropped 25 of the last 26 meetings with San Antonio. The only exception was March 7, 2006, an 98-85 victory at Staples Center in which Duncan was limited to 16 points in 29 minutes because of foul trouble. The Spurs beat the Clippers by an average of 22 points in the four meetings last season, and never by fewer than 16.
Clippers point guard Baron Davis sat out because of a sore left knee. The 12th-year veteran told reporters before gametime that he hoped to be back in the lineup for Wednesday night's home game against Oklahoma City. Backup point guard Randy Foye missed his second straight game after straining his left hamstring during Saturday's practice, so Eric Bledsoe got his first NBA start and nine points and three assists in 39 minutes.
"The young guards worked hard in trying to push the tempo tonight," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "It's a process for them. I liked Eric Gordon's aggressiveness tonight. He has the ability to be aggressive as a point guard. Eric Bledsoe worked hard and made some steals."
San Antonio was leading 29-26 when Spurs forward George Hill missed a driving layup and had his legs taken out from under him by Clippers reserve forward Craig Smith, causing him to crash to the court near the visiting bench and injure his right shoulder. Smith was charged with a flagrant 2 foul and an automatic ejection. The play began when Hill intercepted a pass by Smith.
"It was dirty. Just a dirty play," Parker said. "That was dangerous. There's no need to do that."
Hill wasn't able to take his free throws, making him ineligible for the rest of the game, and Ginobili made one of two from the line. The incident occurred during a 13-0 run that turned a five-point Clippers lead into a 34-26 advantage for the Spurs with 10 minutes left in the half.
"It's his [trapezius] muscle," Popovich said. "It's not like his shoulder's out of joint or out of place, I don't think. He's just stiff and he can't turn his head or his neck. It could take a while, but it could be a whole lot worse."
Del Negro played six seasons with San Antonio, including Duncan's rookie season, and the Spurs' record against the Clippers during that time was 17-7. ... Willie Warren, a 6-4 guard and a teammate of Clippers rookie Blake Griffin at Oklahoma during the 2008-09 season, was activated before the game because of Davis' injury and made his NBA debut after three games on the inactive list. ... Warren, who led the Sooners last season with a 16.3 scoring average, is the fourth player to wear No. 13 for the Clippers during their 27 seasons in Los Angeles -- along with Quinton Ross, Bryan Warrick and current ESPN analyst Mark Jackson. ... Starting C DeJuan Blair played 19 scoreless minutes for the Spurs. ... Duncan's 14 points increased his career total to 20,685, putting him 23 shy of former Spurs great George Gervin for 32nd place all-time and within 105 of former teammate David Robinson for 31st. ... San Antonio's 721-316 record since Duncan joined the team in 1997-98 is the best in the NBA during that stretch, and represents the highest winning percentage of any team in the four major team sports.
Even though the Cavs let the Hawks back in the game after holding an 18-point lead, LeBron James proved to be too much for Atlanta down the stretch.
Good defense leads to great offense as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving run the give-and-go to perfection, and the play ends with a massive dunk by James against the Hawks in the third quarter.
LeBron James drills a fairly uncontested 3-pointer, which causes LeBron to look into the camera and shrug in surprise at the lack of defense by the Hawks.