Chris Paul started off slow, but the Los Angeles Clippers' star point guard eventually erupted, scoring 26 of his 28 points in the second half while dishing out 12 assists as the Clippers defeated the San Antonio Spurs, 105-86, on Thursday night at Staples Center.
Paul made nine of his 18 shot attempts while making three of seven three-pointers, and he was responsible for more than half of the Clippers' second-half points, per NBA on ESPN:
CP3 scored 26 of his 28 Pts in the 2nd half. 58 of the Clippers' 105 Pts were either scored or assisted by Paul. pic.twitter.com/3ZaxjRYUnx— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 19, 2016
J.J. Redick had 17 points for the Clippers, and Paul Pierce chipped in with 12 as Los Angeles improved to 36-18 and moved to 4.5 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies for the fourth spot in the Western Conference standings.
Coming into Thursday's game, the Clippers were 0-7 against the top five teams in the NBA this year, per ESPN Stats & Info. Despite playing without star Blake Griffin (quad, hand), Los Angeles has won eight of its last 10 games.
If there was a time for the Clippers to get a much-needed win, it was against a shorthanded Spurs team that was missing its most valuable player.
All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard sat out with tightness in his left calf, per Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. Spurs point guard Tony Parker led the team with 14 points, while All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge struggled, shooting 3-of-12 for 10 points. As a team, San Antonio shot 42.2 percent from the floor to drop to 45-9 on the year.
As it turned out, San Antonio desperately needed the 2014 Finals MVP on a night when Pierce and Redick exploited the Spurs' lack of perimeter defense.
For two-and-a-half quarters, the Clippers ran high pick-and-rolls with Paul and Pierce, which forced Parker to switch off Paul and guard Pierce one-on-one at the free-throw line. Pierce took advantage of the mismatch by draining two threes and four field goals overall.
Pierce was effective by either taking advantage of the mismatch or passing out of double-teams to find open shooters. With 10 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Pierce drew the defense in and passed to DeAndre Jordan, who made the extra pass to Redick in the corner for three.
All in all, the Clippers made 12 threes against the Spurs.
The Clippers took a 42-34 halftime lead, but they struggled to get any offense going. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register pointed out that, while Los Angeles couldn't take care of the ball, the Spurs offense was cold without Leonard, the team's top three-point threat:
Halftime: Clippers up 42-34. LAC with 14 turnovers! Spurs shooting 34.9 percent.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) February 19, 2016
Before Parker's three-pointer with 1:49 to go in the third, the Spurs were ice-cold from three-point range, as NBA.com noted (via Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News):
The Spurs made only four of their 17 three-point attempts on the night.
Despite trailing by as many as 18 points in the third quarter, the shorthanded Spurs went on a 20-8 run thanks to the play of David West, who scored 12 points off the bench. The Spurs' prized discount free-agent signing hit a three-pointer with two seconds left in the third to make it a nine-point game.
West started the fourth quarter nearly the same way: with a three-point play to make it a six-point game.
The Spurs hung around and answered almost every shot the Clippers made. Paul made a three-pointer with 8:45 left, only to be answered by a jumper from Parker. On the ensuing possession, the Clippers began to pull away thanks to this vicious lob from Paul to Jordan, which gave Los Angeles an 82-73 lead with 8:19 left:
Led by Paul, the Clippers pulled away with an 11-2 run in just under four minutes. The dagger came with 3:30 remaining, when Paul missed a three but redeemed himself with an easy layup. ESPN Stats & Info noted Paul was responsible for 22 of 24 Clippers points when he was on the floor in the fourth quarter.
Although San Antonio was without Leonard, this was a quality win for the Clippers, who are now only four games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 3 seed. More reinforcements will also be on the way after the Clippers acquired athletic wing Jeff Green from the Grizzlies before Thursday's trade deadline, per ESPN.com.
With the Clippers continuing to play well without Griffin, one wonders how much better Los Angeles can play when he returns to the lineup.
Even without their leading scorer, the Spurs managed to cut a once-double-digit lead to as little as six points. They just couldn't get any closer, thanks to Paul's ability to take the game over.
"The group did not play at a high enough level to win a road game," West said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We were not solid enough, and obviously we shot the ball like crap in the first half. We just could not execute enough to keep pace with them."
In the end, the Clippers had more than enough firepower to beat a really good San Antonio team. The Spurs would normally put Leonard on Paul in a situation like Thursday, even if it would mean to take him away from Pierce or Redick.
"Chris' leadership has been through the roof," said Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, who scored 19 points off the bench, per the AP. "Everybody stepped up."