It was a game that was supposed to say something about the Clippers and it did.
They’re nowhere near the team they want to be, the evidence unfolding during another shoddy fourth quarter that doomed them Friday night at the AT&T Center.
The Clippers had persevered through shaky late-game stretches against middling teams but quickly discovered that formula wouldn’t work against the San Antonio Spurs, a 115-107 loss serving as a declaration of their standing in the Western Conference.
“I think we know where we’re at,” Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said after the Spurs scored the first 11 points of the fourth quarter to wipe out a three-point deficit. “We’re not as good as San Antonio and Golden State.”
The Spurs benefited from what appeared to be a missed kicked-ball call early in the run that led to a dunk by Jonathon Simmons. Rivers raised his arms in disbelief and several Clippers stood around as if expecting play to be halted as Simmons went for the dunk.
“As a second unit, we’ve got to do a better job at maintaining the lead, and I think we got kind of flustered a little bit over some calls that we thought were missed,” Clippers forward Josh Smith said, “but we’ve just got to move to the next play.”
The Clippers pulled to within four points three times in the final 2:09 but could never make it a single-possession game as their modest three-game winning streak came to an end.
Clippers point guard Chris Paul had 27 points and 10 assists and Griffin finished with 25 points. It wasn’t nearly enough on a night when the six Clippers reserves who played combined for 20 points.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin walks up court during the final seconds of the team’s 115-107 loss to San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 18.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan reacts after missing a free throw during the second half.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) makes a pass as he’s pressured by Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) and forward Boris Diaw, right, during the second half Friday night.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
Spurs guard Tony Parker has his driving layup challenged by Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) during the second half.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich questions a call during the second half Friday night.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) is fouled by Clippers center DeAndre Jordan during the second half.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) loses control of the ball as he is pressured by Spurs guards Patty Mills (8) and Manu Ginobili (20) during the first half.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers argues a call during the first half of the game in San Antonio on Friday night.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
Clippers forward Blake Griffin pressures Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard during the first half Friday night.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute, left, and Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard chase a loose ball during the first half.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
Rivers acknowledged his bench needed to improve but said he wouldn’t stagger his lineups so that there was always a starter on the court.
“We do at times and at times we won’t,” Rivers said. “Honestly, we won’t right now. We’ve only won nine out of 11, by the way, so we’ve been pretty good.”
The Spurs continually disrupted the Clippers’ rhythm in the second half by sending Jordan to the free-throw line with intentional fouls, using the strategy while behind in the third quarter and ahead in the fourth. Jordan made seven of 16 free throws in those situations and eight of 20 overall in the game.
Rivers said the Clippers’ ball movement slowed late in the game, with the poor execution on offense bleeding over to the defense. They certainly couldn’t stop LaMarcus Aldridge, whose 26 points helped the Spurs improve to 15-0 on their home court this season.
The needs-improvement list was a lengthy one for the Clippers.
“Execute better, get stops, limit teams to one shot,” said Jordan, who had 17 rebounds and 16 points.
“But we’re getting there. It’s taking us a while, but as long as we continue to go forward, we’ll be all right.”
The standings spell out the chasm between the Clippers (16-11) and the teams they’re chasing, with the Spurs (23-5) 61/2 games ahead of them and the Warriors (26-1) having built a seemingly insurmountable 10-game advantage.
“We’re not there,” Redick said. “We know that. We’re playing better, I think we’ve made some progress in the last 10 to 14 days but we know where we’re at.”