The Los Angeles Clippers came to San Antonio wanting to prove they are an elite team, and also to show they should be taken seriously as a contender, as was the case during the first half of the season.
After their 104-102 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, the Clippers certainly proved they can hang with the league's elite but actually finishing the job is still a different story altogether.
As good as the game was, the Clippers will be the first to admit they are no longer interested in moral victories. The fact they had a late lead against the Spurs but ended up on the losing end still does very little for them as they try to finish the season with the No. 3 seed in the West and also prove they can beat the likes of the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat.
After Friday's loss, the Clippers are 0-7 against teams seeded sixth or higher in the West since Jan. 14 and are now 0-6 against San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Miami since Nov. 20.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Paul versus Parker
The battle of two of the premier point guards in the NBA once again went to Tony Parker as he had 34 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Chris Paul had 14 points, 12 assists, one block and one steal. More important, Parker got the win. Paul was passive in the first quarter as every starter had at least five points except for him. Paul was scoreless in the first quarter, missing his three shots, and only had three points in the first half on 1-of-4 shooting. This is seemingly a daily topic of discussion, but Paul simply cannot be this passive early in big games. His aggressiveness sets the tone for the game and opens up other things offensively for the Clippers. When he takes only four shots in the first half, he's simply not looking for his shot. That was clear several times when he was in the paint and instead kicked it out, sometimes to Blake Griffin, who was standing beyond the 3-point line.
The Clippers could have and maybe should have won the game, but maybe there wouldn't have been a need for last-second dramatics if the Clippers didn't look so bad in the third quarter. After shooting 61.9 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, the Clippers shot just 35.3 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively, in the third quarter. They also missed five of their eight free throws. That was a big reason the Clippers were outscored 24-17 in the third quarter and were playing from behind in the fourth. The bench did absolutely nothing in the third quarter, with Jamal Crawford missing the second unit's only shot attempt in the period.
Sure, the Clippers wanted to win this game and maybe even felt they needed to win this game, but there are some positives to be taken from the way they played. Let's not forget the Clippers lost to the Spurs by 36 in Los Angeles when they last played a month ago. Fast forward a few weeks and the Clippers had a one-point lead on the Spurs with three seconds left. The Clippers could have easily folded when they were down 95-88 with 5:40 left and the calls weren't going their way, but they stormed back and took the lead. Much like their loss to Oklahoma City earlier this month when they came back to take the lead only to fall in the end, there's not a lot to be taken from moral victories with nine games left in the regular season. The Clippers need to get as many victories as possible, and wins against the league's elite teams certainly help the confidence of a young team trying to become one of those elite teams right now.