The undefeated San Antonio Spurs may be exactly what the Clippers need to help them out of their two-game funk. After two impressive wins against 2012 Western Conference playoff teams, L.A. has dropped two in a row to the Warriors and Cavaliers.
“I think we came in complacent to where we were instead of just going on and winning those two games [against Golden State and Cleveland],” Eric Bledsoe said. “We aren’t always up for the games we’re supposed to win, but the games we play against playoff teams we bring it, so it isn’t supposed to be like that.”
Enter the undefeated Spurs (4-0), the same team that swept the Clippers (2-2) from the Western Conference Semifinals last season, who visit Staples Center Wednesday night.
Asked what he recalls from the series in 2012, Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said, “We had a very physical series against Memphis and it was a completely different series against San Antonio and I don’t think we handled it overall probably as well as we could have. You know, San Antonio is not going to beat themselves. They’ve been through it, they’ve done it and Chris and Blake weren’t right health-wise and we need them to always play at a high level for us.”
Paul enters the game off to one of the best starts for a point guard in Clipper history. He has a league-high 46 assists and has registered three points and assists double-doubles, including a 15-assist outing against the Lakers According to Paul, though, the team is still looking to play the “right way.”
“It’s not [where we want to be] right now,” Paul said. “But luckily it’s only two games to draw from. We’ve just got to get better.”
The Spurs will offer a stern early-season test. Three of their four wins are against 2012 playoff teams, including a two-point victory over Oklahoma City behind a clinching jumper from Tony Parker in the final seconds.
LAST TIME OUT
Cavaliers 108, Clippers 101: For the second game in a row, the Clippers allowed more than 30 points in the first quarter, fought back to tie it in the fourth and ultimately lost in the final minutes. Paul scored 17 points with nine assists and five rebounds, Blake Griffin had 20 points and six rebounds and Jamal Crawford added 19 points off the bench for the Clippers, which got nine points or more from seven players. Still, Dion Waiters, Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao each contributed key baskets down the stretch for Cleveland. The Clippers finished with a season-high 25 turnovers, allowed 14 3-pointers, and were out-rebounded 18-9 on the offensive glass.
Asked what the team took away from the game as points of improvement, Griffin said, “Defending the three, obviously offensive rebounds, we’ve got to do a better job. A lot of times offensive rebounds come from a breakdown in the offense where guys are out of position, so we need to do a better job of defending penetration and kick outs. There are a lot of things.”
Spurs 101, Pacers 79: San Antonio’s victory Monday night over the Pacers gave the Spurs their first 4-0 start in franchise history. Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair each had 14 points and 11 rebounds and the Spurs’ scored 57 points off the bench. Manu Ginobili, who missed the team’s first two games with a back injury, only managed three points in 17 minutes. The Spurs held Indiana, who was without All-Star Danny Granger (knee), to 34.2% shooting and a season-low 79 points.
Blake Griffin vs. Tim Duncan. Duncan is a four-time champion and, according to Paul, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and entering his 15th season has still averaged 19.3 points and 10.3 rebounds through four games. Griffin, who is playing through a bothersome right elbow, has started the season slower than expected, averaging 16.3 points on 45.1% shooting and 8.0 boards. Still, Griffin had a great deal of regular-season success against the Spurs and Duncan in 2011-12, including his first-career 20-point, 20-rebound game in February.
At shoot-around Griffin was asked about defending the three-time Finals MVP. “[You have to] try to get into [Duncan’s] rhythm and not let him get into his flow and do the things that he wants to do, kind of disrupt that early, Griffin said. “He’s going to make shots. He’s going to get to the free throw line. And he’s going to pass. That’s what makes him so tough, his versatility.”
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
The Bledsoe factor. The dynamic young guard had a breakout postseason series against the Spurs, scoring a career-high tying 23 points in Game 1 and chipping in 17 points, four rebounds and three steals in the series finale. “I just came in with energy,” Bledsoe said of last season’s success against San Antonio. “I prepared for the games with a focused mindset coming into each one.”
He could prove valuable again Wednesday, particularly as a defensive specialist against either Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Energy. One factor in the Clippers losses, according to Paul and Del Negro, was a lack of energy and focus in the first quarter. They allowed Golden State to score the first nine points of the game and balloon their lead to 14 in the early going. Likewise Cleveland, which led by three at the end of the first, scored the 18 of the final 25 points of the opening quarter. How the Clippers open the game could be a telling sign for how it will unfold.
Through four games, Parker has 34 assists to seven turnovers, while Paul has compiled a league-high 46 assists and 10 turnovers… The Spurs have won the season series against the Clippers 15 consecutive years, including a 2-1 series win in 2011-12… Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson were teammates on the Warriors from 2006-2008… Del Negro played for the Spurs from 1992-98… Crawford has 96 points off the bench, making him the first player since 1988 to score that many as a reserve in the first four games of the season.
Del Negro: “San Antonio’s going to run [its] stuff. They are very efficient at both ends, have great experience. So we have to be smart, we have to rebound the ball well, and we cannot turn it over against them because you get Tony Parker in the open court, he’s as good as there is at finishing. We have to be really smart and disciplined.”