Everything was working. They were picking their spots to run, defending, out-working San Antonio for rebounds, and most importantly scoring at one of their best clips in the postseason.
But San Antonio absorbed the opening blow from the Clippers and answered with an extended run of their own, taking a stranglehold on their best of seven series with a 96-86 victory over the Clippers at Staples Center.
The Clippers trail the Spurs, 0-3, in the series with Game 4 Sunday night.
Turning Point: It was a relentless and efficient response from the Spurs, who have won 17 games in a row. San Antonio’s 26-4 run to start the third quarter eviscerated the Clippers’ early lead, but the game started to change at the 8:30 mark of the second. Matt Bonner drilled a 3-pointer from the corner off a feed from Parker, sparking a 27-10 stretch where seven Spurs scored and the
Clippers were unable to maintain their brilliant first quarter shooting.
"We obviously got off to a terrific start," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. "I thought we were very active moving the basketball, and I thought we were feeding off our defense. [In] the third quarter they jumped on us. We shot a lot of jump shots, didn’t attack the rim, didn’t have any offensive rebounds."
Difference Maker: Blake Griffin. Even in a losing effort, Griffin put together his most impressive performance of the postseason. His sprained left knee appeared to cause fewer problems for him, particularly in his 14-point first quarter. He also pulled down five rebounds in the frame, something he was intent on correcting after just one board in 38 minutes on Thursday.
"[Griffin] had it going real early in the first quarter, everything dropping for him," Duncan said. "Boris [Diaw] was doing a great job staying in front of him, he was making some tough shots."
He had his requisite dunks, a spin lob from Paul around Tiago Splitter and an athletic left-handed throw down in the middle of the lane with Tim Duncan defending. Yet it was more about the plays outside of the paint from Griffin. He knocked down a handful of face-up jumpers, a turnaround bank shot, and on two occasions relentlessly pursued his own misses for putbacks.
Griffin finished with a game-high 28 points, 16 rebounds, two steals, three blocks, and two assists.
Stat Line of the Night: The 3-point line. L.A. cleaned up a majority of the issues that were ailing them on the road. They won the battle in second-chance points 15-5, limited San Antonio to 10 fast-break points, and won the rebounding edge for just the third time in their nine playoff games (44-41). However, they failed to halt the Spurs’ 3-point shooting, which arguably was the difference in the game. Too often San Antonio found Bonner or Kawhi Leonard open and with less than five minutes to go and L.A. closing in, Tony Parker helped seal the game with a contested corner three across from the Clippers’ bench. San Antonio shot 9-of-22 from distance (40.9%) compared to 3-for-9 for the Clippers (33.3%), a difference of 18 points.
More Stats: Parker. For the second game in a row Parker’s quickness was difficult to overcome. He converted two end-to-end layups, preventing Caron Butler and Randy Foye from slowing him, and nailed the aforementioned dagger from the corner. He had a team-high 23 points, 10 assists, and made six of his nine free throws.
Kawhi Leonard. The rookie from San Diego State was 3-for-5 from 3-point range to lead the Spurs, and finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. He even spent time in the fourth quarter guarding Paul, including a rejection on a step-back attempt along the baseline.
Reggie Evans. In 14:24, Evans grabbed seven rebounds and had five points, a block, and a steal. He also went 3-for-10 from the line. No other Clipper had more than two free throw attempts.
Hot: Mo Williams. The sharp-shooting reserve knocked down eight of his 12 shots for 19 points. He canned a 21-footer off a steal from Butler at the end of the first quarter to cap the Clippers’ 33-11 start. Williams also halted a streak of 12 consecutive misses by the Clippers in the third quarter with a difficult runner on the right block.
Williams is 12-for-18 from the field in the series.
Not: Chris Paul. It’s been an unfortunate opening three games for the Clippers superstar point guard. After committing 18 turnovers in Games 1 and 2, Paul managed just three in Game 3. However, his shot was still awry. He shot 5-of-17 and had just three field goals in the first three quarters. As he so often does, Paul still found a way to affect the game, dishing out a game-high 11 assists and making two steals.
After the game Paul insisted his strained right hip flexor and groin are not bothering him. "I’m fine. I’m fine," he said. "I’m just missing them [shots]. Just missing is the toughest thing right now."
On the third quarter:
Vinny Del Negro: "I thought we got hung up giving up some corner stuff. We could not score the ball enough to get our defense set. We missed a lot of easy shots-too many jump shots, and they they were out in transition attacking the rim."
Chris Paul: "If we are not getting shots offensively, we need to find ways to get stops defensively. The momentum just changed. Everybody knows how explosive the Spurs are, but we just could not get a stop."
Blake Griffin: "They have to play back-to-back just like we do. Nobody is really at a disadvantage. I’m sure they have a few guys that are banged up as well. We just have to find a way to not necessarily pace ourselves, but make sure we have enough left in the tank for the second half tomorrow."
On quick start by Clippers:
Tim Duncan: "We understood the energy in the building was going to be high. We did not plan on being down that much in the first quarter, but we understood that they were going to make a run early and we needed to sustain."
Gregg Popovich: "I think to start the game, the Clippers played very aggressively and played great defense. On top of that they made their shots, we didn’t make our shots and we were in transition a lot. We were in transition defense over and over again and they took advantage of it and scored and got that big lead on us."
On whether or not the Clippers let up after 24-point lead:
Mo Williams: "I don’t think we took it for granted. We played the same way we played earlier in the game.
On the Spurs:
Randy Foye: "They’re a championship team. They’ve seen every type of scheme, every type of defense."
Notes: No team in NBA history has come back from a 0-3 deficit in a postseason series…Nick Young went 4-for-10 from the field. After the game he said in addition to his sore wisdom tooth he also is fighting the onset of a cold…The Spurs outscored the Clippers, 26-8, in the third quarter…The Clippers shot 18 free throws, just 10 of them came on "unintentional" fouls.
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