Clippers center DeAndre Jordan tries to block a driving layup by Spurs point… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
No team in NBA history has come back to win a playoff series after losing the first three games. That’s exactly the position the Clippers find themselves in now.
After jumping to a 22-point lead in the first quarter, and pushing it to 24 early in the second, the Clippers went dormant offensively and defensively. They ended up losing Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series to the San Antonio Spurs, 96-86, before a silent sea of red T-shirt clad fans in Staples Center.
The Clippers played the role of a thoroughbred that jumps to the lead in mile-and-a-quarter horse race and begins to fade. Those horses rarely recover, and the Clippers didn’t here.
They play the Spurs again on Sunday night at Staples Center, facing the daunting task of winning not only that game, but another at Staples and two in San Antonio to advance to the conference finals. With the way they have played in the first three games, with the exception of the first quarter Sunday, the Clippers are in a deep hole without much chance of climbing out.
Tony Parker, with 21 points and 10 assists, and Tim Duncan, with 19 points and 13 rebounds, led San Antonio. Kawhi Leonard, with 14 points and nine rebounds, and Manu Ginobli, with 13 points and six assists, added balance for the Spurs, who were never seriously threatened once they had taken control with a 24-0 run in the third quarter.
Blake Griffin, who had 14 points in the Clippers’ big first quarter when the built a 33-11 lead, finished with 28 points and 16 rebounds. Chris Paul had 12 points and 11 assists. Mo Williams added 19 points off the bench.
Paul and Griffin teamed to help L.A. get to within eight points in the final quarter, Paul driving to the basket and hitting an 18-footer and Griffin hitting two free throws, to make the score 86-78 with 4:49 to play. But San Antonio answered each Clipper effort after that, and more. Boris Diaw’s backdoor basket with 3:21 to play gave San Antonio a 91-78 lead and led to a Clippers timeout.
At that point, San Antonio’s strategy was to foul Reggie Evans, a notoriously poor free-throw shooter. He went to the line four times and made only two of eight.
The Clippers, who had started so strongly with Paul and Griffin showing some of the speed and power that had defined their games before both were injured in Game 5 of the first-round series against Memphis, were outscored by 12 points in the second quarter and 14 in the third. They essentially kept pace with San Antonio in the fourth, but that wasn’t nearly enough.
Two shots by Griffin and two by Mo Williams cut San Antonio’s lead to 76-69 and led to a San Antonio timeout with 9:13 to play.
San Antonio 69, Clippers 61 (end of third quarter)
It didn’t take the Spurs long to make the 10-point halftime deficit a distant memory. With the Clippers missing 13 consecutive shots, San Antonio went on a 24-0 run, scoring easily inside against a Clippers defense that had suddenly slowed to three-quarter speed. Tim Duncan scored nine points in the quarter and had 19 after three.
The Clippers' offense operated at the same speed as the defense, though a Mo Williams jumper and a steal and breakaway layup by Chris Paul cut San Antonio’s lead to 69-61 entering the fourth.
San Antonio outscored the Clippers 26-8 in the quarter and had outscored L.A., 58-28, in the second and third.
Asked before the game whether the Clippers would be satisfied with a 10-point lead going into the second half, you can assume just about every Clipper would take it. But San Antonio’s 15-5 run had taken some of the edge off the Clippers’ early performance, which had produced a 24-point lead at one point early in the second quarter.
Three minutes into the second half, the lead was reduced to seven, 57-50, when Tony Parker found Kawhi Leonard for a three-pointer from the corner and the Clippers promptly called timeout. The Clippers had overcome a 24-point, second-half deficit in the first game in the first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies; the Spurs were showing that they were certainly capable of erasing the Clippers’ early advantage.
The Clippers offense suddenly stagnated, and when Duncan found Leonard inside for a layup and Leonard was fouled by Griffin, the Spurs had a chance to tie. Leonard made the free throw and it was 57-57 with 7:28 to go. The teams were back to square one, and only the Spurs were playing well.
Duncan then came back with another basket to put San Antonio on top, 59-57, as the Spurs were on a 14-0 run in front of a silent crowd in Staples Center. San Antonio had outscored the Clippers by 12 in the second quarter and with a timeout with five minutes to play, had outscored the Clippers by 12 more, 16-4, in the third.