The Los Angeles Clippers heard the skeptics as they began the season with a 7-2 record, including wins over five of the best teams in the league. As good as the Clippers looked, they had played eight of their first nine games at Staples Center and had traveled outside of Los Angeles only once since Oct. 25.
The Clippers’ four-game road trip, which began Monday night in San Antonio, would show how real the Clippers were. After all, the Clippers had lost 18 straight games at San Antonio before winning at the AT&T Center last season. They also had been swept out of the second round of the playoffs last season by the Spurs.
This season, however, is different.
The Clippers not only beat the Spurs 92-87 on Monday, they have beaten the Spurs twice this season. The Clippers have not defeated the Spurs twice in same season since 1996-97, which was the season before Tim Duncan was drafted. That was also the last time the Clippers won back-to-back games in San Antonio.
“This is a tough place to play,” Clippers guard Chris Paul, who finished with 19 points and 8 assists, told Prime Ticket immediately after the game. “These guys were in my division when I was in New Orleans and we might have won here only once or twice before, so this was a good grind-out win for us to start this road trip.”
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The Clippers made headlines this offseason when they overhauled their bench by trading for Lamar Odom and Willie Green and signing Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf. Before the start of training camp, the Clippers also inked Matt Barnes to a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum after Paul pushed the front office to sign him after discovering he was a free-agent during a pick-up basketball game at the Clippers' training facility this summer. It might not have made as much news as their other pickups, but Barnes has been the Clippers’ biggest offseason addition beyond Crawford. He was a spark plug off the bench for the Clippers, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds, to go along with three steals in 23 minutes. All of his baskets and rebounds came at crucial moments of the game as he helped the Clippers take a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and remained in the game along with the starters.
“Matt Barnes gets the game ball tonight,” Paul said. “He played just about the whole second half. He’s the most in-shape player on our team as you can see, and he won the game for us tonight."
Griffin and Paul finish strong:
Prior to Monday night, the Clippers had jumped out to leads of at least 20 points in their past five wins, thanks in large part to a deep a bench. The play of their second unit has enabled Paul and Blake Griffin to essentially be spectators in the fourth quarter this season as both players are averaging career lows in minutes played. Against the Spurs, the Clippers needed both Paul and Griffin to finish the game, and they responded as you would expect: Griffin had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Paul scored 11 second-half points. Paul's only basket in the fourth quarter, however, was his biggest of the game, as he backed down Tony Parker in the paint and scored from 10 feet out to put the game away with 24.9 seconds left.
“This sets a great tone,” Paul said, “especially the way we won. Like I've said all season long, it’s not going to be one guy with 30 or 40 points. It’s a team effort every night for us.”
Bledsoe and the bench:
Before the game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Eric Bledsoe was probably the most underrated played in the league.
“It’s like nobody knows who he is,” Popovich told reporters before the game. “But he’s a hell of a weapon.”
Popovich and the Spurs got a good look at what a weapon Bledsoe can be on Monday, as he was all over the court, scoring 9 points, grabbing 5 rebounds and getting 2 steals. The bench again was huge for the Clippers, who fell behind by 10 points in the first quarter with the starters in the game but went into the half with a five-point lead after outscoring the Spurs 29-14 in the second quarter thanks a 19-2 run.
“We got off to a bad start, but our bench is not your typical bench,” Paul said. “They got the lead for us.”