San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich signals to his players during a 125-118 win over the Clippers on Dec. 22, 2014.(Darren Abate / Associated Press)
The Clippers have played seven games in the last 11 days, their defense seemingly always lagging back in whatever time zone they have left behind.
And Monday night against the ever-efficient San Antonio Spurs, the Clippers’ defense rarely showed up in the Central Time Zone here.
The defending NBA champions outlasted the Clippers, 125-118, at the AT&T Center. It was the most points the Spurs have scored in a game this season, and the most given up by the Clippers.
“This is a time when we have to find a way,” said Chris Paul, who had 25 points and nine assists. “We have to find our defensive intensity.”
The Clippers haven’t found their defense during a seven-game stretch in which they have lost four times, all on the road.
Against the Spurs, the Clippers gave up a season-high in points not just for a game, but also in a half (72 in the first).
They allowed season highs in field-goal percentage for a game (63.6%), for a half (75% in the first) and for a quarter (75% in the second).
The Spurs’ 49 field goals (in 77 attempts) also were a season high against the Clippers. San Antonio made 13 of 23 three-point shots, including six of nine in the first half. The Spurs also had a season-high 37 assists.
“In a game like this, both teams offensively were clicking,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “Both teams are very good offensive teams. And both teams going into the game thought they’d be much better defensively.”
The Clippers’ second unit of Jordan Farmar, Jamal Crawford, Glen Davis, Reggie Bullock and Hedo Turkoglu played its best basketball of the season.
It was that group that helped pull the Clippers out of a 17-point deficit in the third quarter and into a 102-102 tie early in the fourth quarter.
“Our second unit was huge tonight,” Paul said.
But a Spurs team that had lost four consecutive games, including back-to-back defeats in triple overtime, had an answer for everything.
Led by Tony Parker, who scored 26 points in his return after missing five games because of a strained left hamstring, San Antonio went back up by nine points later in the fourth. Whatever defense the Clippers were playing, it wasn’t nearly enough.
The Clippers gave up 30 points in the fourth quarter, after giving up 35 in the first and 37 in the second. Only in the third quarter did they keep the Spurs in check, limiting them to 23 points as L.A. rallied behind Blake Griffin, who scored 10 of his 22 points in the period.
“The only disappointing thing for me was in the beginning of the third quarter we came out and played with amazing energy. All of a sudden they couldn’t score,” Rivers said. “So what’s the message? If you play with that type urgency and energy every night, you’re going to win a lot of games. But you can’t fluctuate. We’ll learn that.”