Clippers collapse all but seals series
Clippers collapse all but seals series
LOS ANGELES With five minutes left and desperate for a stop or even a flicker of encouragement Clippers guard Randy Foye doggedly tracked Manu Ginobili up the lane toward the top of the key where he surely would receive the ball from Tony Parker, when a thought occurred to Foye: Ginobili wasn't cutting as fiercely as usual.
Then Foye found out why.
As Ginobili reached the free-throw line, he leaned into Foye, gave him a nudge and cut, fiercely, toward the basket. Parker spotted Ginobili and fed him a perfect pass for an uncontested layup.
The basket may not have spelled the end for the Clippers, but it spelled out why the San Antonio Spurs were able to rebound from a 24-point deficit to beat the Clippers, 96-86, and take a 3-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series on Saturday.
It also spelled out the difference between the Spurs and the upstart Clippers Lob City vs. Fundamental Town and, at the moment, everyone else in the NBA.
"When guys play together for a long time, all you've got to do is look at that guy," Foye said, noting the benefit of Parker, Ginobili and Tim Duncan playing together for 10 seasons under coach Gregg Popovich. "It don't matter how high you jump, it don't matter how tall you are. If you don't play smart, you'll get picked apart."
Foye isn't the only one the Spurs, who have won 17 consecutive games, have played for a sucker. Parker and Duncan continue to shred the Clippers off the pick-and-roll, the result being open mid-range jumpers and layups for Parker and Duncan, or clean looks for the legion of Spurs who camp out at the 3-point line. Chris Paul, injured or not, shot poorly once again, making 5 of 17 shots for 12 points and is shooting just 30.7 percent in the series. Reggie Evans, a 52 percent career free-throw shooter, was intentionally fouled three times and made 2 of 6 shots.
One of the distinguishing, and admirable, characteristics of the Clippers has been their die-hard pluck. They led the league in come-from-behind wins during the regular season, began the playoffs with an epic 24-point fourth-quarter comeback against Memphis, and advanced out of the first round by winning Game 7 in Memphis.
But on Saturday, after the enthusiasm and execution of a scintillating start wore off, the Spurs stole their spirit as well as the lead. When Nick Young sank a 3-pointer to put Los Angeles ahead 40-16, there was no panic, no seething and no willingness to just write off the game and wait for Game 4.
"Devastating," Paul termed the loss, knowing that no team in NBA history has won a series after losing the first three games.
"It was tough, I'm not going to lie," Foye said. "It was tough on the psyche, tough on the body. You're out there and trying to give it your all and it's just like they'll go fast and then they'll go slow. It's basically like [Popovich] is over there saying pick your poison.'"
And yet, as it unfolded, it felt predictable, as if both teams were regressing to the mean.
"I don't want to speak for Vinny," Popovich said of Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, who once played for him. "But most of us, you get a quick lead at the beginning of a game, it's like a coach's nightmare because you know the NBA game is so doggone long and just about everybody comes back to some degree. Those large leads are tough to hold."
The Spurs closed within 10 at halftime and outscored the Clippers 24-0 during a stretch in the third period. Del Negro called a timeout, made substitutions, but nothing derailed San Antonio's execution, or its momentum.
"When they took the lead, I think it took the air out of us a little bit," said Clippers guard Mo Williams, who had 19 points off the bench. "We just didn't regroup from it."
Said Del Negro: "We got them back on their heels early, but we couldn't sustain that. They kept on running their stuff and stayed with it, and that's what veteran, championship-type teams do. They stayed with their stuff and grind the game out until they get their rhythm."
It's an accurate assessment, but also an interesting one. The Clippers comebacks have typically been fueled by a change of pace: Eric Bledsoe's defense, Evans' energy, momentum-swinging shots by Williams, Foye or Young, or the late-game brilliance of Paul. The Spurs simply keep doing what they're doing.
That is something Clippers general manager Neil Olshey will begin to consider soon. The team has an option on Del Negro for next season; Williams has a player option he can exercise; and Foye, Young, Evans, Kenyon Martin, Bobby Simmons and the injured Chauncey Billups will be free agents.
Olshey will have to consider how to build around Blake Griffin, who had 28 points, 16 rebounds, three blocks and two steals, and can sign a max deal this summer, and Paul, who will be eligible to do the same, or opt out, next summer.
Griffin said there is plenty for him and the Clippers to learn. He noted, admiringly, how efficiently the Spurs run their offense, how hard they compete and how good their defensive principles are.
But asked what the Clippers might emulate about the Spurs, he paused and then smiled for one of the few times Saturday.
"Seventeen in a row would be nice," he said.
NO D, NO RING!!!!
With 26 points on 4 of 4 shots from distance in only 20 minutes of PT. Efficient eviceration.
Wolves' fan: ginobili vs. the wolves is like he's just kind of laughing to himself all game...kind of like he thinks it's cute that they're trying to play basketball.
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