Clippers push back against Spurs in a big way

Clippers push back against Spurs in a big way
Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) has his layup challenged by Spurs center Tiago Splitter in the second half of Game 4. (Darren Abate / Associated Press)

For the Clippers, this one was more than a victory. It was a resurrection.

Everything that was missing for the team in blue and red in Friday's night 100-73 bloodletting at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs was back Sunday afternoon, in an AT&T Center of 18,581 home fans screaming for the kill.

The missing elements found in this game included fight, intensity, even desperation.

One thing was clear. A Spurs victory would certainly seal the deal at 3-1 in this best-of-seven series. Another thing was even more clear, after these four games, and Clippers Coach Doc Rivers articulated it best afterward.

"There is no momentum in this series," he said. "It is just two teams, fighting."

Reports of the Clippers demise, widely circulated after Friday night's game, turned out to be premature. The "relentless" team owned by Steve Balmer was just that. Hardcore, too.

Asked about his view of his team's toughness now, after its escape from the graveyard, Rivers said, "I already believed in it. A one-point loss or a 30-point loss is just a loss.

"You take a look at things and you agree that you didn't play well, and you just say, 'OK guys, lace them up again.' "


And so the Clippers did.

Now, the pendulum of this NBA playoff swings back to the Clippers, who have two of the three games left at Staples Center.

The score Sunday was 114-105, and the victory was sealed, fittingly, with DeAndre Jordan's slam dunk for a 110-100 lead with 1 minute 11 seconds left. That was kind of an in-your-face answer to the beating San Antonio handed the Clippers two days before.

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio's legendary coach, said he was most disappointed in his team's failure to shut down shooting guard J.J. Redick, who got a key 17 points.

"No matter who we had on him," Popovich said, "he got the best of them. Neither Danny [Green] nor Kawhi [Leonard] played as well as they could have on him."

The Spurs also failed to stop Chris Paul, who Rivers has encouraged to be more offensive; "he'd rather pass to somebody else for a basket," Rivers said. Paul got 34 points on 11-for-19 shooting and 10 for 10 in free throws. And he did that while playing much of the final period with five fouls.

Right from the start, it was different than Friday night.

This time, the Clippers pushed back. No eye-rolling at incredible Spurs plays. No shrugs and chins on chests.

This time, the Spurs knew that, to get this series to 3-1, they'd need to endure some lumps. Only a few minutes into the game, Tony Parker cut to the basket and the game had to be stopped while they put a bandage on his cut eyelid.

There was so much negotiating with the officials that it resembled a United Nations session, only with more swear words.

To the Clippers' credit, they were unyielding, no matter what was going on. To the Clippers' detriment, at least in the first three periods, the Spurs were more than willing and more than physically able to push right back. If there is this much physical action in Saturday's Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight, those ringside seats may be worth the six figures they are bringing.

Redick talked Saturday about the need to play with desperation. Not feel it or succumb to it. Play with it as an action starter.

"You never want to go down, 3-1," he said. "We know we can beat them. Now we just have to do it."

The Clippers led at the half, 51-47, and there had been no trends established, other than both teams had decided that this was going to be Wrestlemania as much as basketball. In other words, this was the NBA playoffs.

There were no significant runs in the first three periods. That's not NBA playoffs.

Paul made six consecutive free throws in one span and Austin Rivers, who dazzled even his dad with 16 points and stellar defense on whomever he covered, dropped in a three-point basket for a 77-72 Clippers lead. But the Spurs hung on like a skunk smell, and at the end of the third period, the Clippers' lead was only 81-76.

That set the stage for that ever-present NBA jewel — the fourth quarter. The fans were on their feet, the noise was ear-splitting, and they were off, the Clippers in desperation and the Spurs in search continuing toward consecutive title destiny.

But this time, the happier yells certainly were taking place two time zones to the West, as Clippers fans, many fearing a result that would have ended their hopes and their season, watched on TV.

And now it gets better for them. Tuesday night, they can get a closer look at a team that chose Sunday not to merely linger in its casket.