The San Antonio Spurs’ precision passing game is known for going from good to great — the Spurs giving up good shots in favor of great ones.
What the Clippers did over the final two minutes Monday night could be described as going from bad to terrible.
They committed a flurry of turnovers toward the end of a game they led nearly the entire way, and the result was an 89-85 loss to the Spurs that left the Clippers walking off the court with glum expressions.
Blake Griffin made turnovers on back-to-back possessions and the sure-handed Chris Paul, who entered the game with a 12.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, had the ball stolen by San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard.
The Clippers still somehow had a chance to tie the score in the final seconds but Paul missed a strongly contested driving layup with 2.9 seconds left. Griffin dived on the floor to grab the rebound, and then Paul asked for a timeout.
That was a problem since the Clippers didn’t have any. The Spurs were awarded a technical-foul free throw and the ball with 1.4 seconds left.
Tony Parker missed the free throw, but Leonard made two of them with four-tenths of a second left to help the Spurs secure their first road victory of the season.
“They basically gave us a clinic down the stretch on how to close out a game,” said Paul, who had 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. “The tough part was our turnovers. That was very uncharacteristic of us, turning the ball over like we did.”
Griffin had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Paul finished one assist short of his second triple-double in four games, and it meant nothing after the Clippers failed to hold a seven-point lead in the final 5:49 against the defending NBA champions.
“We just had too many empty possessions over the last five minutes,” said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, whose team scored only three points, and no baskets, after Paul made a short runner to give them an 82-75 lead with 5:49 to play.
The Clippers’ cushion was down to one point when Leonard stripped the ball from Griffin with 1:49 left, leading to a layup by Leonard that gave the Spurs their first lead of the night, 83-82.
Griffin then had a pass stolen by Boris Diaw, who eventually made a floating jumper to extend the advantage to three points.
“I had two bad turnovers at a critical time,” Griffin said. “I’ve got to be better with the ball.”
Leonard followed with his steal from Paul, reaching out to swipe the ball away with his fingertips. A layup by Ginobili put the Spurs up, 87-82, seemingly putting the game out of reach with 32.8 seconds left.
But the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford was fouled on a three-point shot and made all of his free throws and Ginobili missed two free throws, giving the Clippers a chance to tie the score or take the lead.
Rivers was thrilled with a defense that held the Spurs to 39.8% shooting, including a dreadful two for 19 (10.5%) from three-point range. But the Clippers (4-3) accumulated 17 turnovers, a big reason they failed to extend leads as large as 10 points in the first half.
“We had turnovers on three-on-ones, four-on-twos, and those are killers,” Rivers said. “And it felt like every time we turned it over, that’s when they converted.”
That was especially true in the fourth quarter, when the Clippers committed eight turnovers, leading to 13 San Antonio points.
Leonard had 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting, showing no signs of the vision problems that had resulted in shaky accuracy earlier this season.
Tim Duncan added 18 points for the Spurs, whose playing rotation was shortened with starting center Tiago Splitter (calf) and reserve guards Marco Belinelli (groin) and Patty Mills (shoulder) all sidelined.
The Clippers were feeling achy only about their play.
“That’s not like us,” Paul said. “We can usually score the ball and we didn’t give ourselves a chance down the stretch.”