The Clippers are dynamic. They are athletic. They are fast and fun and give you monster dunks.
They are not yet a basketball team, not in the true sense, not one that is going to win consistently in the NBA. The Spurs are what we thought they were — a relentless execution machine. A team.
And that’s kind of what you got Monday night — for one quarter the Clippers could keep the pace up and ran past the Spurs for a small lead. But the slow and steady tortoise grinds down the hare and wins. In this case, 97-88.
It was always going to be hard for the Clippers because the Spurs look as good as they have in years. Richard Jefferson has found his way in the offense — 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting. Rookie Gary Neal comes in and knocks down 4 of 8 three pointers off the bench. Antonio McDyess defies father time for nine boards and a team best +15. The defensive rotations are tight. They continue to just be the Spurs. The only question about them is how healthy and rested their big three are when the playoffs start, that is what determines how far they go.
The Clippers are not the Clippers. Well, they are in the sense they are 0-4 now. But the feel is very different this year even if the results are not.
Blake Griffin can do things that just bring the crowd alive. He put a wicked spin move on Tiago Splitter, he had a high-flying dunk in transition, he went baseline on Antonio McDyess for a dunk. Eric Gordon just threw one down over Tim Duncan and had another high-flier later. Each time the desperate-to-believe crowd at Staples just erupts.
If you just watched the highlights, you’d swear the Clippers won.
But they didn’t. Not even close, really. The Clippers are great theater but they are not a winning basketball team right now.
“We just have to come together and figure each other out more,” Griffin said after the game. “Especially defensively, we gave up too many open shots and a team like that is going to kill you every time… what it comes down to is who sticks to their game plan and who executes.”
The Clippers have to run to get much offense. They need the easy transition buckets. Blake, Gordon and Baron Davis (who did not play due to right knee pain) can all run. But in the half court the Clippers sets are pretty simple and the Spurs had little trouble with them. These sets may have worked for Vinny Del Negro in Chicago where the dynamic Derrick Rose ran the show, but the Clippers don’t have that guy. They have Griffin, a big.
“Without Baron out there, we can’t push the ball,” Del Negro said. “Gordon and (Eric) Bledsoe are still learning how to push the ball up. We can’t get (Chris) Kaman and Blake set in the paint.”
Clippers showed some things that could work, like the Gordon/Kaman pick-and-pop. But it’s not run consistently. And the Spurs take away the easy buckets the Clippers need at this point.
Depth is the other serious problem for the Clippers — while Neal alone had 16 points off the bench, the entire Clippers bench had no points through three quarters and finished with 7.
No Davis, no Randy Foye and then Craig Smith getting tossed for a dirty take down of George Hill on a fast break exacerbated the depth problem. The Clippers gave Willie Warren and Brian Cook minutes. Not a good sign.
(Hill did not return to the game after the Smith hit due to spasms in his trapezes muscle. He will be re-evaluated on Tuesday but this is something that could have been a lot worse. Hill and the Spurs are lucky.)
It’s going to be a tough year for the Clippers. Fun. Entertaining. But tough.