SAN ANTONIO-The final score and a barrage of 3-pointers from the Spurs doesn't explain how close the Clippers may have been to snatching Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals away from San Antonio Tuesday at AT&T Center.
After playing even for much of the first half and putting together yet another furious rally, the Clippers had multiple opportunities to pull within six points or fewer in the final five minutes. But they failed to convert down the stretch and the Spurs pulled away for a 108-92 victory.
The Spurs, who had not played in eight days, won for the fifth straight time in the postseason and 15th time in a row overall. Game 2 is slated for Thursday night in San Antonio.
"We weren't able to slow them [the Spurs] down," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. "The tempo was in their favor a lot. We missed a lot of easy shots which got them out in the open court. I thought in the beginning of the game we did a good job in terms of our tempo a little bit."
Difference Maker: Tim Duncan. The future Hall of Famer continued his revitalized run through the playoffs. He scored a game-high 26 points on 12-for-20 shooting with 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. It was his 133rd career double-double in the postseason and third in five playoff games this season.
San Antonio was hot from 3-point range, making 13 of their 25 shots, but it was Duncan who set the tone throughout. He scored at least six points in every quarter and made the Clippers' scrambling defense pay with a variety of open jumpers and driving plays in the lane.
"Tim was solid as usual," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. "He's played like that all year long. He's not going to do anything that's going to be on a highlight film for TV, but highlight film for coaches possibly. "
Turning Point: With the Clippers on a 10-2 run, Duncan made a one-handed turnaround bank shot over Kenyon Martin to save a possession that seemed lost with 6:26 to go that made it 94-82. The shot seemingly stemmed the tide and the Spurs went on to score 14 of the final 24 points of the game.
Best Adjustment: Del Negro used Eric Bledsoe in a variety of ways defensively. The speedy young point guard effectively matched up at times with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and his ability to disrupt both playmakers' penetration helped spark L.A. in the early fourth quarter.
Stat Line of the Night: Eric Bledsoe. It was the third outstanding performance in a row for the dynamic second-year guard. He matched his career high in points with 23 and was a major factor in pulling the Clippers to within eight points in the fourth quarter.
"He changes the complexion of the game," Del Negro said. "We can play him and Chris (Paul) together sometimes. I was pleased with his aggressiveness tonight."
More Stats: Caron Butler. Butler gave the Clippers the kind of scoring from the small forward slot that they'll need going forward. He was 6-of-13 from the floor and 3-for-7 from behind the 3-point line for 15 points.
Blake Griffin. Despite playing with a sprained left knee and turning his ankle in the first half, Griffin still had 15 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. In the early going, he was able to get free for some easy buckets in transition and converted a spin lob from Bledsoe around Boris Diaw.
Manu Ginobili. The crafty lefty was one of three Spurs to make three shots from downtown. He finished with 22 points off the bench and made seven of his eight free throws.
Kawhi Leonard. Not heralded as a shooter when he came out of San Diego State, the rookie small forward scored 16 points on just eight shots, made all three of his 3-pointers, and grabbed six rebounds with three steals. His athleticism and rebounding ability was evident when Popovich used him as a power forward when the Clippers went small late in the game.
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DeAndre Jordan. After struggling through the Clippers' seven game series with Memphis Jordan got off to a great start Tuesday. He grabbed eight of his nine rebounds in the first quarter and had seven points, including a dunk on the break and lob from Griffin.
Hot: The Spurs from 3-point range. San Antonio entered the series shooting better than 40% from distance in the playoffs and blitzed the Clippers from long range, making the extra pass in transition, and finding open shooters on drives. They made 11 of their first 16 3-pointers and finished 13-for-25 (52%), tying a franchise playoff record for 3-point field goals made.
Not: Chris Paul. It was unusual night for the superstar point guards with Tony Parker shooting 1-for-9 and scoring seven points and Paul managing just six on 3-for-13 from the field. Paul's performance was exacerbated by five turnovers, including four in the first half that led to five points. His final miscue with 54 seconds left in the second quarter led to a 3-pointer for Danny Green in transition pushing the Spurs lead to nine.
"I feel like I got every shot that I wanted," Paul said. "I just didn't make them. I think that was the most frustrating part, getting to where I wanted to and not seeing them going down."
Paul said he made "a few bad decisions" that were costly. Still, he finished with 10 assists and five steals.
On question of fatigue being a factor:
Kenyon Martin: "We don't make excuses in here. You've got to play the game. We're all professional athletes. It's been a short season. We played three games in a row a couple times, so fatigue is not an issue."
Manu Ginobili: "It was hard to tell if they [the Clippers] were tired or not, or if we were rusty or not. The game developed the way it did."
On how his sprained left knee felt:
Blake Griffin: "At tipoff I felt pretty good. Throughout the course of the game you just get a little bit more fatigued, a little bit quicker than normal. But [I'll] get back in the training room, get treatment, and hopefully it will be better next game."
On the biggest challenge they face with the Spurs:
Griffin: "How many weapons they have. How precisely they run their offense. It's not about one or two guys, it's about moving the ball around to all five guys. They just seem to always get open shots and that's the toughest part."
DeAndre Jordan: "Just controlling their penetration. As long as you can control Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili] and make them take tough shots and not try to collapse on them and just contain them."
On not being able to cut into lead:
Chris Paul: "It was just turnovers; time and turnovers. I turned it over a few times in a row and they got out in transition and made threes."
On his own performance:
Kawhi Leonard: "I just got the ball and went up strong tonight. I saw opportunities where nobody was boxing me out so I just went and got the ball."
On the Spurs shooting:
Tim Duncan: "It started with the ball movement. We know they are going to be physical and we know they are going to pack it into the lane. Tony (Parker) did a great job of getting into the lane and finding shooters and obviously our guys shot the ball well. That is the way we want to play the game and that is the way we want to move the ball."
Notes: The Spurs scored 28 or more points in each of the first three quarters...Although San Antonio was more proficient from 3-point range, the Clippers still managed to go 9-for-19 from behind the arc (47.4%), led by Nick Young's 3-for-3 performance. Young finished with 13 points...The Spurs out-rebounded the Clippers 47-34. It was sixth time the Clippers have lost the battle of the boards in eight postseason games...The Spurs also had 17 second chance points to the Clippers' 6.
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