It’s been a rough start to this season for both Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs. In the 89-85 win over the Los Angeles Clippers he played for the first time like the guy who looked unstoppable and impassible on both ends of the floor in last season’s final, especially during the closing minutes.
The Spurs came back from behind with a 14-3 run to close out the game. They were behind by seven points (75-82) with 5:48 remaining but played some fantastic defense in the closing minutes, holding the Clippers on only three points until the end, as another example of just how bad Chris Paul does during crucial moments came to light. He wasn’t alone in the collapse, but this isn’t the first or the last time it’ll happen.
Leonard had failed contract negotiations and an eye injury hampering his start of the season. He seems to be over them both, scoring 26 points and notching his second consecutive double double (adding 10 rebounds), including four points, two steals and two assists in that winning run, scoring a season high for him and maybe establishing himself finally as the go to guy for the Spurs in clutch situations, although it’s never that simple with the Spurs.
Still without Tiago Splitter, the Spurs had to suffer from an awful shooting night by Matt Bonner, going 1-of-7 from beyond the arc. Danny Green hit nothing as well, scoring just two points and Tony Parker had one of his worse performances this season, hitting just 3-of-13 from the field, a little bit making up for hit with his free throw shooting to end up scoring 13 points. Tim Duncan was solid as ever with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
This wasn’t a typical game for both teams. The Spurs shot under 40% from the field, while the Clippers turned the ball over 15 times and struggled generating a fast-paced game at home, struggling to create pressure on the Spurs’ ball handlers. They did force them into bad shots, but the Clippers defense at its best comes from steals and running the floor. The Spurs usually had time to settle in with their defense and avoid a run-and-gun game they’re not always suited for unless they’re having a special day from the outside.
Blake Griffin led the team with 23 points on 9-of-17 from the field, adding 10 rebounds and 6 assists, but he didn’t amount to much in the end. Chris Paul missed a triple double with just one assist short, but his biggest miss came with the Spurs leading by two points in the final seconds. Paul drove to the basket and got himself a clean enough look for a layup. Instead of sending the game to overtime, his shot bounced off the rim a couple of times before landing in a skirmish on the floor, resulting in a Spurs possession and win.
The talk about the Clippers not matching the hype makes some sense, even if we’re just a couple of weeks into the new NBA Season. They’re not a new team, and should be showing more maturity and common sense beyond the obvious and impossible to miss talent. The Spurs are doing fine, despite the 3-3 record. Too many things still aren’t in place, and going by experience, it’ll surely get better in the future, especially if Leonard has put his early season jitters behind him.