Propelled to victory by a lopsided run Friday night, the Clippers were undone by another during their loss Saturday.
The Clippers couldn’t replicate the kind of second-half efficiency that pushed them over the top against the Lakers in a loss to San Antonio one night later at Staples Center. The teams were tied at halftime but not for long after, with the Spurs outscoring the Clippers by 20 in the third quarter en route to a 122-111 victory.
“I didn’t think we played well the entire game honestly,” coach Doc Rivers said. “They had more energy. They were far more physical than us.”
The Clippers had entered game winners of four of their last five games and feeling as though they’d recaptured the depth and grit that helped them earlier this season. They’d been building back to this point since hitting the statistical low point of their season Dec. 13 in San Antonio. The 38-point loss that night remains the Clippers’ largest margin of defeat this season.
“It’s funny, when you look back at that game, you feel like you got blown out but when you look at it, you were down three with a minute left in the [first] half with the ball,” Rivers said before tipoff. “The middle of the third quarter is where the game changed.”
And so it did again Saturday.
The Spurs (20-17) shot 59.1% during the third quarter, with guard DeMar DeRozan making all four shots he attempted. Three came within eight feet of the basket and his success in the paint was no exception. His team made eight of nine field goals inside the paint during the quarter, creating a parade of easy shots at or near the rim that the Clippers (21-15) couldn’t overcome with their 31.6% shooting in the quarter.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored a game- and season-high 38 points. The Clippers decided not to trap him and left him alone in one-on-one defense.
“He destroyed all of our bigs tonight,” Rivers said.
DeRozan had 25 and Rudy Gay 12. The trio did their damage despite making zero three-pointers.
Montrezl Harrell’s dunk in transition with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter cut the Spurs’ lead to 118-108. After trailing by as many as 23, the Clippers appeared to have life. But with 1:43 to play, Marco Belinelli ended the Clippers’ threat with yet another Spurs basket at the rim – a dunk while driving the baseline.
The Clippers’ most reliable scorers all suffered off nights on the same night. Tobias Harris had 16 points on five-of-12 shooting, Danilo Gallinari added 21 and Lou Williams had 16 off the bench, on four-of-14 shooting.
Harrell tied Gallinari for a team-high 21 points. The Clippers missed eight free throws and struggled where the Spurs succeeded. Los Angeles scored 11 points off 16 San Antonio turnovers, while the Spurs scored 30 points off 17 Clippers mistakes.
Clippers starters Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the latter limited by foul trouble, combined for 19 points.
For the second consecutive game Marjanovic started and Marcin Gortat replaced him to open the third quarter, but the move didn’t pay the same dividends it did against the Lakers. Gortat had two points, and also two fouls, in four minutes before checking out for good.