It was a first for the Clippers in the first game after the All-Star break. They beat one of the Western Conference’s top teams for the first time this season on Thursday, a 105-86 victory over the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center, making the elite teams ahead of them in the standings seem a bit less invincible. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Chris Paul was something else with almost no one available to back him up. The Clippers point guard played all but 3:54 of the second half and would have played the final two minutes had not his team's best victory of the season already been secured, allowing C.J. Wilcox to check in to the game. The Clippers were in such a bind because backups Pablo Prigioni (viral illness) and Austin Rivers (broken hand) were unavailable, forcing Jamal Crawford to play backup point guard. Crawford was solid (19 points, six assists to go with seven turnovers) but Paul was spectacular, scoring 26 of his 28 points in the second half, including 15 in the fourth quarter. Paul also had 12 assists and five rebounds. “He made timely shots, he got guys to their spots and made good passes as he always does,” San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich said. “He definitely took over [for] his team in the fourth” quarter.
2. No one can say the Clippers haven’t beaten anybody without Blake Griffin. They are now 19-5 since their star power forward was sidelined, first by a quadriceps injury and then a broken hand sustained punching an assistant equipment manager, but they had not beaten any of the top teams in the West until dispatching the Spurs. “To win a game against a team like this is good,” Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute said. “It gives us confidence moving forward. But we have another great team coming up next game, so you have to have the same mentality to go at it again.” Mbah a Moute was right in that it doesn’t get any easier for the Clippers with defending NBA champion Golden State up next on Saturday.
3. Defense got it done for the Clippers. They held the Spurs to 15 points in the first quarter and 34 points in the first half, helping compensate for 14 Clipper turnovers in the first two qaurters. No Spur scored more than Tony Parker’s 14 points and Tim Duncan was held to two points on one-for-six shooting. “Our effort defensively was great all night,” Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said. “They are a very good offensive basketball team. They are a very good defensive basketball team. We just continued to attack, even in the first half with some of the turnovers. They really tried to be physical with us all game, and we were able to play through that.”
4. It was a long, emotional day for Paul and several teammates and coaches. Paul, Austin Rivers and Coach Doc Rivers traveled to Oklahoma City with Popovich and a contingent of Spurs to attend the funeral of Ingrid Williams, the wife of Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams, who died in a car accident Feb. 10. There was universal praise for the way Monty Williams handled his eulogy. "It was probably the most powerful speech I have ever heard in my life, given the circumstances,” Paul said. “We got a chance to see Monty for a second before we all left and I told him that he does not always have to be the strong one. He just knows all of the right stuff to say and he was like that when I played for him. He is a strong man.”
5. Doc Rivers bid a fond farewell to Lance Stephenson while welcoming Jeff Green. The Clippers were active in the minutes before the trade deadline on Thursday, snagging Green from the Memphis Grizzlies in hopes that his length and shooting could boost their frontcourt. But Rivers also seemed a bit wistful when discussing Stephenson, who was sent to the Grizzlies along with a lottery-protected first-round draft pick as part of the deal. “Lance was terrific,” Rivers said. “Sometimes he fit [on the court] and sometimes he did not, but Lance the guy, he was great. Guys really liked him. You keep learning about people and you do not know about a guy until you coach a guy. I was really happy with him with how he handled himself.”