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Fran Blinebury

Tim Duncan and the Spurs calmly eliminated a 24-point deficit in Game 3.
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

Spurs handing young Clippers painful lesson

Posted May 19 2012 10:05PM

LOS ANGELES -- It's what they call a learning experience.

Like dropping an anvil on your toes. Or banging your head against the wall. Or sticking your hand into a blender.

"We've got to learn not to do that," said Blake Griffin.

Pain is a powerful teacher.

The insides of the Clippers' skulls were still pounding after they blew a 24-point lead in a 96-86 loss to the Spurs that might as well have been a hand-drawn map of exactly what the two teams are all about.

The Clippers are as raw and emotional as a teenager on a first date. The Spurs are as experienced and unflappable as a world-weary traveler.

The Clippers scream and jump for joy all over the basketball court. The Spurs hum and take the next step by putting their right foot in front of their left.

The Clippers anxiously turn every page of the book like it's a thriller and they can't wait to find out what happens next. The Spurs already know how the story ends.

The Clippers left Game 3 against San Antonio feeling as bad as they felt good about rallying from 27 down to win at Memphis.

"That's a good way to put it," Griffin said. "To be up that early, we knew that would make a run. They're too good of a team to just kind of lay back and take a loss like that."

"It was gonna happen," said his teammate Nick Young. "Every NBA team makes a run during a game. And that team, as good as they are, it's only a matter of time until they get themselves together and take their best shot."

It happened like a snowfall with the Clippers not seeming to notice the individual flakes of a Tim Duncan spin move in the post, a Tony Parker floater or a Manu Ginobili 3-pointer. But soon they were hip-deep and couldn't move.

It had been a wonderfully resurgent season for one of the league's most perennially hapless franchises. From the moment that Chris Paul was tied up in a bow by commissioner David Stern and delivered to their doorstep, the Clippers have been fun and exciting and full of emotion.

The next step is their understanding that emotion is like a wave -- it can only carry you as far the beach and then you have to be able to stand up and walk.

"We really didn't make any changes in how we played," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

They never do. And that's how the Clippers are different.

You could watch Griffin in the first half, catching lob passes for slam dunks, soaring out of the pack to grab offensive rebounds and flushing them home, even hitting a turnaround, step-back, banking 16-footer and continually exploding like a string of emotional firecrackers. You could watch Paul move and glide into traffic in the lane, dishing set-up passes, hitting nifty buckets as the Clipper Nation crowd celebrated like the clock still hadn't struck 12 on New Year's Eve.

And you could see the Spurs just keep slicing away like impassive sushi chefs who never even give a thought to taking off a finger.

"They walk you down," Griffin said.

The Spurs came back because they never come apart, never deviate from the plan. Whether it was Parker or Ginobili or Duncan or Boris Diaw or Gary Neal, they were getting the same shots in Game 3 as they got in Game 1.

"It's frustrating obviously," Griffin said. "You want to be able to find that whatever it is and get a stop. But this is what they do best. They've seen a lot of schemes."

The Clippers are like tourists on their first out-of-town trip, too busy gaping at the sights to know when their pockets are being picked.

Relative health is a definite factor.

Paul is playing with a sore groin and a hip injury and when he can't flit around the floor with his usual quickness, creating off the pick-and-roll, the Clippers' party tends to grind to a halt.

Griffin is playing with a badly sprained right knee and when he expends himself so brashly and brilliantly in the first half, he has almost nothing left in the second.

But when even they are fit, the Clippers are like a wildfire out of control, while the Spurs are as steady an unobtrusive as the heat that warms your house.

If Duncan showed any fewer signs of emotion, you'd be tempted to take his pulse, and that trait has rubbed off on the rookie Kawhi Leonard.

"I think he's even more mellow than me, if that's possible," cracked the deadpan Duncan.

Leonard and the journeyman Danny Green never lost their heads when L.A. built the 24-point lead.

"They take their cues from the rest of us -- Tony, Manu and me -- and they don't panic," Duncan said.

The Clippers run around like their hair is on fire.

You can call it a learning experience. Or just getting burned.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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