Unable to get past the second round of the playoffs for the past three seasons, not many gave the aging San Antonio Spurs much of a championship-contending thought when the shortened season began. They were regarded as aging, middle-of-the-pack type team in the Western Conference.
It’s time for second thoughts.
Playing the sixth consecutive game on their annual rodeo road trip, the Spurs found a way to squeak out a thriller victory against the Clippers in overtime, 103-100. The Spurs have now won a league best 10 consecutive games, and at this rate they may very well break their own team record for the longest single-season road winning streak, eight games, achieved in 2003.
A little luck went a long way in keeping the Spurs’ streak alive. Chris Paul, who should have been the hero of the game after scoring 19 of his 21 points in the final period and overtime, turned the ball over at the most unlikeliest moment of time, ultimately costing the Clippers the game.
From Broderick Turner of Los Angeles Times: In the quiet Clippers locker room, Chris Paul sat with a towel on his lap and ice bags on both knees, re-living a moment that he couldn’t forget, talking about his game-changing turnover late in the fourth quarter that led to a three-pointer by Gary Neal that tied the score. Paul’s voice was steady as he talked about a play that he said cost the Clippers the game, a play that he repeatedly said was “my fault,” a play that pushed his team toward a 103-100 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday at Staples Center. “This one stings probably more than any other one,” said a dejected Paul … The Clippers called a timeout. Ryan Gomes inbounded the ball to Paul, who was running full speed in the frontcourt. As Paul received the pass, his momentum took him toward the backcourt. He took one step trying to avoid going over the half-court line. Paul then threw the ball right to Neal, who took one step (toward) the three-point line … before drilling a three-pointer to tie the score at 95-95 with 5.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter.”
Neal, despite a gaffe of his own by failing to catch a pass from Tony Parker with 9.5 seconds left in regulation, scored 17 points but missed two free throws that would have given the Spurs a four-point lead at the end of overtime. That gave the Clippers one last chance, but Paul’s 3-point attempt was off-target.
Tony Parker continues to be one of the most overlooked point guards in the league. He provided another overall dominant performance by scoring at least 30 points with 10 assists for the second consecutive game. He continues to solidify his role as not only the best player on his team, but a legitimate MVP candidate.
From Tim Griffin of San Antonio Express-News: “Considering the way that Parker has helped the Spurs during significant injuries to Manu Ginobili and back-up point guard T.J. Ford, there’s no doubt he’s been the team’s most valuable player this season. In fact, some observers have said he’s been among the league’s most valuable players so far this season. ESPN.com’s Maurice Brooks listed Parker as the No. 7 player on his weekly MVP poll last week. And that selection came before the last two games. In Saturday’s game, Parker completely outplayed Paul, who produced 21 points and six assists, but clanked through a 6-for-19 shooting night. Paul was harrassed by Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard during extended periods of the game. The West’s starting point guard by the fans’ selection was limited to two points through three quarters before erupting late in the game and in overtime. The best example of Parker’s domination over Paul could be seen in the plus-minus scores after the game. The Spurs scored 15 more points than the Clippers when Parker was on the court. And the Clippers scored 20 points less than the Spurs when Paul was playing. The recent blitz has shown that Parker is playing like the league’s best point guard. And another big game on Saturday was the primary reason the Spurs extended their 10-game winning streak.”
The win was costly for the Spurs, however, as they lost two key players in Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter due to injuries.
From Mike Monroe of San Antonio Express-News: “It took cruel news to put a lid on the euphoria that should have followed San Antonio’s 103-100 overtime victory. Moments after Gary Neal turned a dumbfounding turnover by Clippers All-Star Chris Paul into a game-tying 3-pointer that sent the game to an OT session he capped with the game-winning shot, the Spurs’ medical staff gave coach Gregg Popovich an injury report he hated. Just four games into his return from a broken left hand, All-Star guard Manu Ginobili suffered a rib injury that likely will sideline him for another extended period. If that weren’t enough, second-year center Tiago Splitter’s breakout season will likely be put on hold because of a strained right calf. “I think we just lost (Manu) again and Tiago,” Popovich said. “It’s going to be a while. Preliminary (report) looks like a muscle under the rib (for Ginobili), and Tiago is a high calf something-or-other. It looks like we won the battle, and it makes it tough to win the war, but it was a great game today.”
Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 22 points and 20 rebounds. Paul added 21 points and six assists, but after watching Paul struggle early, Vinny Del Negro turned to other options in the third quarter by bringing in seldom used Eric Bledsoe to help contain Parker and featured Randy Foye on offense. The plan worked as Foye, scoring a season high 21 points, caught fire to help erase a 15 point deficit in the third while Bledsoe helped disrupt Parker’s flow. In the end, however, it was Del Negro’s questionable decision to let Gomes, who hadn’t played since the second quarter, to inbound the pass on the final play that led to the turnover and the eventual loss of the game.
Elsewhere, the Bulls finally lost a game to a bad team.
From K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune: “At least Tom Thibodeau can stop answering questions about whether or not he should sit Derrick Rose based on the alleged quality of the opponent. That’s about the only positive to take from Saturday’s surprise, the Nets’ 97-85 beatdown of the Rose-less Bulls. The loss snapped the Bulls’ streak of 18 straight victories over sub-.500 opponents and dropped them behind the Heat for the league’s best record. “We just played like (crap),” Carlos Boozer said. Thibodeau loves preaching about readiness to play. And the fact he used 11 players in the first quarter alone — including, in an atypical rotational move, rookie Jimmy Butler first off the bench — tells you all you need to know about this one. Well, that and the fact the Nets jumped to a 22-3 lead, snapped an eight-game losing streak and the Bulls’ vaunted defense allowed Deron Williams to shred them for 29 points and eight assists and Kris Humphries to post 24 points with 18 rebounds.”
The Nets snapped their streak of eight straight losses as MarShon Brooks added 19 points. More better days could be on the horizon for the Nets: Brook Lopez will suit up to start against the Bucks on Sunday, his first playing time this season.
- In a nail-biting game, the Grizzlies beat the Warriors 104-103 on a game winning tip-in by Tony Allen. For the second consecutive night, Rudy Gay took a game winning shot and missed only to be bailed out by a teammate to put back his miss. The Grizzlies won their fourth consecutive game to move up to the sixth spot in the West. The Warriors lost their third straight and are quickly unraveling under Mark Jackson despite big games from Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis who combined for 69 points and 12 assists.
- The Blazers routed the Hawks 97-77 to end a five-game skid at home. LaMarcus Aldridge returned from a sprained ankle with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but the story of the night was Raymond Felton who finally came through with 14 points and eight assists after struggling so badly that his starting job was in danger. The Hawks didn’t give much of a fight despite a near triple-double from Josh Smith with 14 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.