It was a potentially franchise-altering moment, the Clippers pulling together to beat the defending NBA champions in a playoff game on the road. Their 114-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday at the AT&T Center could have implications extending well beyond one game. Here are five takeaways from the contest:
1. It’s a series again. The Clippers got the road win they needed, sending the series back to Staples Center with home-court advantage. Of course, they will need to win Game 5 to avoid being in a precarious spot for a second time. If nothing else, the Clippers guaranteed a return trip to San Antonio for Game 6 of a series that suddenly feels as if it might go the distance.
2. Chris Paul became the leader the Clippers needed. He was defiant, he was brilliant, he was pick your adjective in steadying his team when it could have easily fallen apart. The point guard’s contributions went well beyond his 34 points and seven assists, his aggressive approach rubbing off on his teammates. “It was awesome,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “We needed it. He’s just such a great scorer, but he looks at himself, if you say, ‘Chris Paul,’ he’s going to say, ‘Point guard,’ and it’s almost like he doesn’t think of himself as a scorer. He thinks of himself as a point guard. Most scorers, as we know, are scorers. They want to score. Chris would rather get someone else points and that was nice down the stretch.”
3. Austin Rivers turned San Antonio into the Riverswalk. The Clippers backup point guard took center stage for long stretches during only the fourth playoff game of his career, scoring 16 points on seven-for-eight shooting to go with solid defense. “He stepped in and made some big shots for them, made some big plays for them,” said San Antonio power forward Tim Duncan, who fouled Rivers on a layup early in the fourth quarter, resulting in a three-point play. “In a series like this, it always comes down to someone, some X factor kind of stepping up and giving you a boost.”
4. The Clippers took flight behind their wings. Paul and Rivers were not the only perimeter players to excel. J.J. Redick scored 17 points and Jamal Crawford added 15 off the bench, giving the Clippers 82 points from the quartet. The production was needed on a day that center DeAndre Jordan scored six points and Matt Barnes mustered only four.
5. The Spurs may be hesitant to go back to intentionally fouling Jordan. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich yelled at his players in the first half over their inability to foul Jordan when Popovich wanted; when they finally got around to hacking Jordan in the second half, it only worked in the Clippers’ favor. Jordan missed both of his free throws after being intentionally fouled, but the Spurs then sent Paul to the free-throw line for six consecutive free throws that helped the Clippers surge ahead. “We didn’t execute sharply enough in what we wanted to do strategy-wise or just in general basketball play,” Popovich said. “I thought we were just not very wise in a lot of the situations.”