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Bad habits begin to reappear as Spurs hand Clippers third straight loss

San Antonio Spurs' Jock Landale stretches for a rebound as Clippers' Justise Winslow and Nicolas Batum look on.
San Antonio Spurs center Jock Landale stretches for a rebound as Clippers forward Justise Winslow and forward Nicolas Batum look on in the first half Monday at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It wasn’t only Paul George and Serge Ibaka who returned Monday for the Clippers.

Some of the team’s worst habits were back, too — the kind of nagging problems that have undercut their attempts to string together consistency more than a third of the way through this season, with the most difficult stretch of their schedule still to come.

Outhustled for rebounds, beaten back on defense in transition and unable to generate points off of San Antonio’s mistakes, the Clippers were methodically thumped, 116-92, in their last game in the building known as Staples Center, before its official name change to Crypto.com Arena.

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There was a different name for this outing, though — ugly. It was the latest in a three-game losing streak that dropped the franchise to 16-15, and while Clippers coach Tyronn Lue pulled positives from the first two, at Utah and Oklahoma City, this was an exceedingly one-sided rout.

San Antonio took 114 shots, only the ninth time in a non-overtime game in the last 30 years a team had attempted at least that many. Their possessions, to Lue, resembled a “walk in the park.”

It was a perfect storm of all that has held the Clippers back at times.

Ex-Clipper Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Oklahoma City Thunder past the Clippers 104-103.

Clippers’ opponents had grabbed the league’s 10th-highest rate of offensive rebounds — and that was before San Antonio grabbed 23, the most allowed by the Clippers this season — and scored 27 points off them to hold a 22-point advantage in second-chance opportunities.

“One hundred and 14 shots, 23 offensive rebounds, I don’t think I have ever seen that before,” Lue said, adding it was “an ugly way to play basketball.”

Outrebounded by 24, the Clippers are now 6-11 this season when losing the rebounding advantage — a problem identified weeks ago by George when he noted that opponents are comfortable sending extra rebounders to the offensive glass because they do not fear the Clippers in transition, where they rank third-worst in points per fast-break possessions. San Antonio scored 18 fast-break points to the Clippers’ 10.

“It’s just deflating, we can’t rebound,” George said. “That’s what we’re going to see very night. Every team doesn’t expect us to play in transition.”

Also connected to the Clippers’ fast-break struggles this season: Their league-average rate of scoring off of turnovers. San Antonio committed 12 turnovers but hardly paid for them, as they were translated into just three Clippers points.

Clippers guard Paul George struggles to shoot over San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White and center Jakob Poeltl.
Clippers guard Paul George struggles to shoot over San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) and center Jakob Poeltl (25) in the second half Tuesday at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“We’ve got to look in the mirror, all of us, and come back with a physicality on Wednesday night or it’ll be the same result,” Lue said.

On a night when the Clippers trailed by as many as 30, and San Antonio guard Dejounte Murray recorded his sixth triple-double of the season to continue his star turn with 24 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, the best result for the Clippers was George’s return to the court, and form, after five games sidelined by a sprained ligament in his right elbow.

George scored 25 points on eight-for-18 shooting, with six assists and six rebounds. And though he had four turnovers, he nearly offset them with three steals.

After his first basket Monday, a second-possession layup, he shook out the arm, appearing to slightly favor it. His coach was more worried about his conditioning after two weeks out of game action; George’s ramp-up had included conditioning drills and one-on-one work in recent days.

Yet George appeared hardly rusty. A left-to-right dribble, back to a right-to-left crossover, freed him from the defense of Doug McDermott for an 18-foot jumper and later in the first quarter used only his left hand to whip a perfectly placed bounce-pass assist for a rolling Ivica Zubac dunk. In the third quarter, using his right hand, he lofted a lob for another Zubac dunk.

“I felt fine tonight,” George said. “The biggest key was I didn’t overexert myself. I just played the game within the flow.”

With backup center Isaiah Hartenstein and his rolled ankle watching from the bench in warmups, Ibaka entered as George went to the bench in the first quarter and missed his first shot, a close-range floater, before making one of two free throws. Like George, the question for Ibaka was his readiness for game speed after two weeks spent out of the rotation and at home during the most recent two-game trip, but the 32-year-old provided an answer in his first seven-minute stint, grabbing six rebounds and blocking a shot. He finished with four points and eight rebounds.

Clippers starting forward Marcus Morris Sr. entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols before Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Zubac added 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers.

Yet the Clippers’ rebounding struggles continue.

San Antonio’s Jakob Poeltl didn’t play in the Clippers’ comfortable win against San Antonio on Nov. 16, and his presence helped dictate the flow of the game. The center — traded to San Antonio in the deal that sent Kawhi Leonard to Toronto — had 17 points and 11 rebounds with five assists. Five of his rebounds came on the offensive glass.


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