LOS ANGELES — The Clippers were in a crisis last time they played the San Antonio Spurs, having lost nine of 11 games. This time?
The Clippers (27-24) are enjoying a winning streak that they’re extending to a season-high four games with a 138-100 win over the same Spurs team they beat six days earlier.
“Yes, things feel different. We still have a long way to go but things feel different,” said coach Tyronn Lue. “When you win, a lot changes, but we get better in certain areas, especially offensively. I think we’re turning the corner in that regard.”
Offensively, the Clippers again got a solid performance from Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, who scored the majority of the goals. George had a game-high 35 points on 14-of-19 shooting (5-8 from 3-point range), seven assists and four rebounds, while Leonard had 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting and seven assists graduated
“Offensively, I thought we took advantage of their doubles team, found our distance, found our right distance, moved the basketball, and dealt with the basketball, which was one of our problems this season,” Lue said, pointing to her low turnover count.
“Only having five turnovers is huge for us, so it’s great that PG and Kawhi have 14 assists and no turnovers playing through your two big boys like that. … Like I said, we are trending up but we still have a long way to go, we need to keep working to get where we want to be, but I like where we are right now.”
Things have definitely turned around for a group that opened the season with high expectations before struggling to find consistency and string together wins due to injuries and absences.
“I think offensively in the last 10 games, we’ve finished third in the league on offense,” Lue said. “It was something we struggled with early in the season when Kawhi and PG and the other guys were out. So now I think offensively, we’ll figure it out somehow.
Even on defense, the Clippers made slightly more stops than the last time they saw the Spurs (14-35), resulting in a 131-126 shootout in San Antonio.
Center Ivica Zubac watched a film about the Clippers’ previous game against Spurs and while the combined 257 points scored two weeks ago may have been fun for fans, he found it a bit pathetic.
“We’re talking about it,” he said of the defensive game. “We just have to do it on the pitch (make defensive stops). Do it better.”
The Clippers give up an average of 110.6 points per game and let their opponents shoot from the field 53.3% of the time. They limited the Spurs, who were without standout forward Jeremy Sochan (quads), to 45.1% shooting.
Keldon Johnson led Spurs with 19 points and Keita Bates-Diop, who replaced Sochan in the line-up, finished the tournament with 13 points. San Antonio has lost nine of their last ten games and 12 of 14.
“Well, defensively, I thought we did a good job just understanding the game plan, sticking to our principles, which eliminated back cuts and the middle drives,” said Lue. “I thought we did well.
“It’s a tough team because it keeps you in tight situations but I think overall we’ve done a pretty good job sticking to the game plan.”
The Clippers avoided a shootout at Crypto.com Arena by taking an early lead. Leonard made five of his first seven shots and George also started efficiently at 4 for 7. At halftime, Leonard had 18 points and George had 22 to put the Clippers 78-57 ahead.
They led by as much as 34 points in the second half, shooting 58.4% from the field as they had a near-healthy lineup. Twelve players scored in the win and collectively made 18 3-pointers.
Norman Powell had 15 points while Zubac had 11 points and five rebounds.
Guard Reggie Jackson put in another solid performance with 12 points and three assists, and Robert Covington finished the tournament with 10 points and six rebounds.
The squad was further strengthened with the return of guard Luke Kennard, who had missed the last nine games with an ongoing calf injury. Kennard started back in his first game and finished with five points in 17 minutes.
John Wall (stomach injury) and Marcus Morris Sr. (bruised ribs) are still missing.
Not everything went perfectly for the Clippers. They gave up 52 points in the suit and 16 second-chance points. Still, Lue was happy with the way his team played.
“Things are getting better, our two boys (Leonard and George) are playing, they’re healthy. And that’s a positive thing for us,” said Lue.