LOS ANGELES — In a close, evenly-played game like this, it comes down to a thousand little things.
For the Clippers, it was death by a thousand cuts: a Chris Paul technical; the team going 1-of-14 from three; letting the Spurs grab a late offensive rebound; calls not going their way; and a tired Blake Griffin having a fantastic game then going 1-of-9 in the fourth quarter due in part to fatigue.
And it was DeAndre Jordan tipping in a ball over the cylinder that was going in on its own.
“It was a dumb ass play… can’t blame anybody for that but me,” Jordan said.
The Spurs just kept executing and making plays: Tim Duncan hitting Boris Diaw for the corner three; Duncan blocking Blake Griffin in the paint (then stripping the ball from him); Manu Ginobili beating out Matt Barnes to get a rebound with the game on the line. And even when the Spurs didn’t execute well, Diaw hit a bail-out 18-foot fadeaway he even described as “lucky.”
It all added up to a 111-107 Spurs win in Staples Center Tuesday night. With the win the Spurs take a 3-2 lead home and will try to close it out in games six Thursday in San Antonio.
It’s tempting to describe the game as just the kind the Spurs find a way to win, but coach Gregg Popovich was not buying that.
“One would assume that experience would help you, but not as much as players making plays,” Popovich said.
Popovich made one key adjustment, putting Duncan on Griffin for key stretches of the game, including the fourth quarter. Most of the season, the Spurs prefered to use Tiago Splitter on Griffin, but with Splitter injured and playing limited minutes it wasn’t working. So Popovich turned to the future Hall of Famer.
Griffin put up numbers — 30 points, 14 rebounds — but he struggled down the stretch. That included a key block then strip by Duncan of Griffin in the paint.
“His timing is just impeccable,” Popovich said. “He has a hard time jumping over the proverbial piece of paper, and he gets in position. He knows where to be. He’s played long enough, he’s got a great basketball IQ, and he has excellent timing, so he reads things well….
“It might have been the play of the game when he blocked that shot.”
That was one. The other was a Griffin basket with :07 seconds left that would have put the Clippers up by one, but was waived off when Jordan touched it over the cylinder.
“I was just trying to make a play on the ball, but it ended up being a dumb play,” said Jordan, who admitted touching the ball.
Early on it seemed this could be a good night for Los Angeles. The Spurs opened the game 4-of-14 shooting, the misses allowing the Clippers to get out and run — and that means high-flying dunks that got the crowd going. Add some bad rotations on defense and things got so weird Popovich called for some zone defense. It was pretty much the dream start for the Clippers, who led by as many as 14… then Doc Rivers went to his bench. That zone and the Clipper bench meant by the end of the quarter it was 27-22 Clippers and felt like a game again.
When the Clippers starters returned, the team went on a run, but this time the Spurs were not going to let the game get away. A seesaw second quarter ended with a 54-53 Clippers lead at the half. Blake Griffin already had 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, plus eight rebounds.
The Spurs had a vintage Spurs night — Ducan had 21, Kawhi Leonard 18, but the Spurs had eight guys with at least 8 points. Their balance makes them hard to defend.
The Clippers are more top-heavy in their scoring, and in the end Griffin was clearly tired and not making plays. Not that it was his fault the Clippers lost. It was just another of a thousand little cuts.