Thursday was dubbed “Throwback Night” at the AT&T Center. Top 40 hits from past decades played as Spurs fans swayed in the stands. Lucky winners of promotions took home Rubik’s Cubes. O-Town, a boy band that peaked 17 years ago, held a concert afterward.
Every Spurs fan in the sellout crowd appeared to go home happy after watching a 125-87 blowout victory of the Clippers. But if there’s any team that could use a throwback night right now, it’s Los Angeles.
Once the surprising owner of the Western Conference’s best record, the Clippers have lost five of their last seven games.
“You’re going to have clunkers,” coach Doc Rivers said, “and we’ve had a bunch of them.”
Comebacks were the Clippers’ calling card to start this season. Even down big in the fourth quarter, they were once undaunted.
Rallies have been harder to come by in December.
Trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half, the Clippers (17-11) were down four with less than a minute to play in the first half after Tobias Harris made a three-pointer. It was the high-water mark of their attempted comeback.
The Spurs (15-14) scored the next 15 points and never had their lead dip into single digits the entire second half. The win was San Antonio’s fourth consecutive.
A different streak was extended for the Clippers — their fifth straight game in which they trailed after the first quarter, and the third time during that stretch they’ve been down double-digits after the first 12 minutes.
“I think the schedule got to them a little bit,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “This is their third game in four nights, so their energy level wasn’t as good as it usually is and we’ve been in the same situation. So we had an advantage tonight and it worked out.”
Tobias Harris scored a team-high 17 points, and Danilo Gallinari (15 points), Avery Bradley (15 points) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (13 points) joined him in double digits. Gilgeous-Alexander made his first six field goals but Gallinari didn’t score for his first 13 minutes as teammates missed his mismatches on smaller players.
It was a strange exception on a night where ball movement was otherwise solid. The Clippers assisted on 21 of their 30 field goals.
“We were not exploring the switches and the mismatches like we usually do,” Gallinari said. “I think that’s something we have to be better with.”
His frustration boiled over. After Spurs star DeMar DeRozan received a foul call after continually lobbying officials for much of the second quarter, Gallinari felt he was fouled at the end of the first half on a similar play but didn’t receive a call.
“Wake up,” he told the official, who responded by calling a technical foul on Gallinari.
After outscoring the Spurs 30-28 in the second quarter, the Clippers didn’t wake up after halftime. There would be no stirring comeback — not after the Clippers scored 30 points the entire second half.
Playing a second straight game without the injured Lou Williams, the NBA’s leading scorer off the bench, the Clippers’ reserves combined for 25 points and lacked the pop that sparked so many victories in October and November. Forward Montrezl Harrell came off the bench to score six points, the third time in his last four games he’s scored fewer than 10 points. During a 15-game stretch from Nov. 2 to Dec. 3, he’d averaged 18.7 points.
“We just have to pick up our intensity and pick up our physicality,” said reserve forward Mike Scott, who scored six points and is enduring a scoring slump of his own.
Offense was not an issue for the Spurs. Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge made 20 of their 24 combined field goal attempts for 48 points and their team shot 57.8%.
“We clearly have to be better defensively,” Rivers said. “I turned to one of the coaches and said even if we’re making shots we lose tonight because they’re just shooting the ball so well. I didn’t think we were into [the Spurs] enough. I thought they were very comfortable.