Five Takeaways: Clippers Lose To Spurs For First Time This Season

LOS ANGELES – The Clippers (35-23) had a chance to beat the Spurs (44-13) for the third time this season, but the momentum shifted late in the third quarter and the Clippers could never get it back, falling to San Antonio for the first time this season.

Here are five quick takeaways from the Clippers’ 105-97 loss.

Quote of the Night: “It was tough to watch, because you could see it – you could see us out of rhythm, out of sync offensively... We did miss open shots, but we still didn’t play good offense.” – Head coach Doc Rivers

1) Chris Paul returns – Paul made his return to the court after missing 14 games recovering from surgery to repair a torn left thumb ligament, which he suffered Jan. 16 against the Thunder. Rivers said because it wasn’t a lower body injury, Paul has managed to stay “in pretty good shape,” able to run shortly after the surgery. He’s been back practicing since the Clippers returned from the All-Star break, and he felt good enough to go Friday night.

Rivers said ball-handling and timing are always the hardest things to get back after a long hiatus, and there were some elements of that, with Paul one time dribbling off his foot out of bounds. But Paul was also doing what he always does, with his active hands creating two steals to go with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists.

2) Austin takes over early – Doc Rivers was asked before the game about the adjustment for Austin Rivers in his return to the bench, and he said “you never know” how a player will handle that, but Paul wanted to make sure Austin stayed aggressive. That wasn’t a problem Friday, with Austin scoring 15 points in his first 12 minutes off the bench, giving the Clippers a second-quarter lead and putting them in control at the time. Austin’s 20 points through three quarters made him the game’s leading scorer at the time. He finished with 23 of the Clippers’ 31 points off the bench.

3) Missed opportunities in defeat – After a late third-quarter Spurs surge, it was still anybody’s game heading to the fourth quarter. San Antonio stayed on the pedal, but the Clippers hung around. There were just too many missed opportunities to make a final push. In the first half, the Clippers didn’t score any points off the Spurs’ 10 turnovers. By game’s end, the Clippers scored just 11 points off the Spurs’ 15 turnovers, while the Spurs scored 20 points off the Clippers’ 12 turnovers.

Early in the third, Kawhi Leonard picked up his fifth foul, yet by the end of the quarter the Spurs still managed to take the lead. When the Clippers cut it close late, more turnovers and good looks from deep that didn’t go down prevented a fourth-quarter comeback.

4) Struggles from deep, rebounding – By halftime, both teams were shooting exactly 41.5 percent, but the Spurs led by going 7-for-14 from 3-point range. The Clippers did a better job protecting the 3-point line in the second half, but they couldn’t get going themselves from long range. J.J. Redick had a couple opportunities to give the Clippers a late spark on good looks from behind the arc, but finished 2-for-8 from 3-point range. The Clippers as a team went 7-for-23 from long distance and were outrebounded by 15.

5) Griffin in attack mode – As the Clippers tried to mount a late comeback, Blake Griffin continued to attack the rim, at one point resulting in a bleeding face on a drive into the lane. Griffin ran to the locker room, got taped up, then came back to the court for his free throws. Griffin scored 23 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, also adding nine rebounds and five assists and going 11-for-11 from the line.

What’s Next? – The Clippers host the Hornets on Sunday.