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Rise and Fall

By Jeff Koch on January 5, 2014.

Los Angeles Clippers 92, San Antonio 116

One perfect half of basketball covers all manner of sins.

And that first half was about as perfect as regular season basketball can get. A combination of the Spurs’ renewed focus after the Knicks loss and the Clippers perhaps a bit shell-shocked from losing their leader to an injury the night before and being on a back-to-back led to the perfect storm for the Spurs. 70 points in a quarter AND holding the opponent to a mere 35? Yowzers. Both are superlative, and to be doubled up at half is near-impossible.

And the Spurs did it with almost no 3-pointers, instead working their offense until almost every shot was right at the rim. Tiago, in particular, was brilliant, and you got a glimpse of just how good of an offensive player he can be when the players around him use him properly. He works in the pick and roll magnificently, and moves without the ball really well in general. He is a superb passer in small spaces. He tends to miss a lot of bunnies, but in general he has good footwork and knows how to get his shot off around shot blockers. (And, of course, he injured his shoulder late in the game and will most likely miss a chunk of time. D’oh!)

One of Pop’s greatest fears (and I tend to agree with him on this) is big early leads. NBA games are too long and the teams too good to sustain such a large lead. And often the team that comes back totally steals momentum, and the team with the early lead gets caught flat and unable to match the newly renewed energy of the fighting team.

So when the second half started, it was inevitable that the Clippers would play better. We weren’t going to beat them by 70! And it was inevitable that the Spurs, with such a cushion, and facing almost no resistance in the first half, would let down a bit. The Clippers raised their energy level, and the Spurs, content in the results of the first half, took a long time to follow suit.

But really, a 35-point cushion is an awfully fluffy and soft one.

The Clippers scored 35 points in the 3rd quarter, doubling their score. The Spurs played like poop, taking almost 6 minutes to score their first 6 points of the quarter…and the lead was still 18 going into the 4th. In full credit, the Clippers made the game very interesting and never quit, forcing Pop to go a long time without digging deep into the bench. But the energy spent to even get back to a 13-point deficit was too great, and eventually in the 4th the Spurs woke up a bit and put the game away against the tired Clippers team.

Even without Chris Paul, this was a good win. You can only play the team that is in front of you. The way the team played in the first half was a good reminder of what they can do on both ends of the ball, and I doubt Paul is a 35-point difference maker, no matter how great he is. It’s nice to know that that team is still there, when called upon.

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