LOS ANGELES — It has been like this for nearly two decades now: The Spurs needed something and Tim Duncan was there to give it to them.
They needed better shooting than Game 1, they needed points, and he had 28 points on 23 shots. Duncan was going right at DeAndre Jordan early, he hit a key shot in the paint in overtime, he had 11 rebounds. In a game the Spurs said they were desperate to win, they turned to Tim Duncan early and often.
“He was probably our best player in Game 1, too,” Gregg Popovich said after the game. “This is nothing new for Timmy… He was spectacular. He continues to amaze me with the things that he is able to do.”
The Spurs needed all of it on a night where Blake Griffin dropped a triple-double — 29 points, 12 points, 11 assists. Game 2 was a game the Clippers thought they had — to the point that Chris Paul stomped up and down in frustration at one point in overtime. It was the Clippers stars who seemed worn down and made mistakes late — it was a Griffin turnover that led to the free throws that allowed the Spurs to force overtime.
Then in the OT it was vintage Spurs: Duncan hits a leaner in the paint, Patty Mills scores on a leak out when the Clippers fall asleep, then Kawhi Leonard got a layup after Matt Barnes loses him. The Spurs executed the way they always do. The Clippers would not die in front of another raucous home crowd, but a J.J. Redick three rimmed out, and the Spurs hung on to win 111-107 in overtime. It was certainly not always pretty, but it was entertaining in what has been the best first round series of the playoffs so far.
The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to San Antonio for Game 3 Friday night.
Thanks to Duncan.
And Patty Mills.
Tony Parker left the game midway through the fourth quarter and did not return due to what was described as a tight right Achilles (there are no other details yet). Mills stepped up — he drove and was fouled, then hit the two free throws that forced OT. Then the Austrailian had six points to lead the Spurs in OT, and 18 total on the night off the bench.
“That was a game of grit, and grind, and competitiveness,” Mills said. “We showed competitiveness at the toughest times, which is good. We lacked that in the first game so we knew that before any Xs and Os in this game we needed to show we could come out and compete for 48 minutes — and even more so tonight.”
It was clear from the opening tip the Spurs were playing with a little more desperation. The Spurs came out much sharper and more focused defensively. They doubled the pick-and-roll out high, they rotated more sharply, and they got back in transition defense. Offensively they went to Duncan inside, and he hit 8-of-9 for 16 first half points. The Spurs moved the ball much better and that led to better looks, for the game 46 percent of their shots were uncontested. Still, the Spurs missed their threes (3-of-12 in the first half). The Clippers were no better from three (2-of-9 in the first half) but got 19 points on 13 shots from Griffin in the first half, he was hitting from everywhere. Chris Paul was sharp as usual, but the Spurs led 52-47 at the half.
Clippers came out in the second half with better ball movement, better defense, but they missed shots early. Spurs offense was not clicking either; Parker has not been sharp (or fully healthy) and it was just a lot of Duncan and Leonard vs. Paul and Griffin.
At times the Clippers started to look tired — they lack depth, and this was a hard-fought, up-tempo game. Yet they would not quit and they had their chances late. Jordan blocked a Duncan shot in the lane, Matt Barnes had a key late steal. It seemed like the Clippers would win.
The Spurs were the Spurs. They executed relentlessly. And while the polished veterans tried to sell this as just another win, the looks in their eyes and their comments in the locker room postgame when the cameras and recorders were not on let you know they thought this win was a massive one.
“The mindset was like a Game 7,” Mills said. “That’s the way we treated it. Like I said the competitiveness of that game that really got us the win in the end.”