Before the relatively underwhelming Fight of the Century there was the thrilling end to the First Round Series of the Century. Two basketball heavyweights put what happened in Vegas to shame yesterday, when the Clippers knocked off San Antonio 111-109 on a last second running jumper by Chris Paul.
“It was clean, solid, beautiful basketball by both teams,” a drained, but glowing Doc Rivers said at his postgame presser.
A series that ended with the Clippers outscoring the Spurs 721 to 720 finished with a spectacular shot by Chris Paul.
Paul’s running jumper capped a back-and-forth game that featured 31 lead changes and 16 ties. The Spurs went on an 8-1 run to take a 97-92 lead with 5 minutes left. Then a pair of free throws by Blake Griffin and a JJ Redick three tied it up. The teams then traded leads for the final three minutes before, before Chris Paul made two free throws with 13.3 seconds left on a very shaky call on Tim Duncan. But San Antonio responded when Duncan was fouled by Redick as he went up for a close shot to try and tie the game. After knocking down both free throws, Chris Paul finished San Antonio with the game winner. “”We’ve been in that situation a lot of times already this year, and most of the time I hadn’t made it,” Paul said. “We talked about it, and finally it worked when we needed it.” Paul would go on to score 18 of his 27 points in the second half, after sustaining a left hamstring strain early in the first quarter.
With the teams going back and forth, Paul left the game late in the first quarter and headed immediately to the locker room. However San Antonio couldn’t pull away in his absence, thanks to some big buckets from Jamal Crawford (16 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds) and Matt Barnes (17 points, 1 assist, 5 rebounds). Paul returned to the bench at the 7:21 mark and came back with the Spurs clinging to a one point lead. With Paul hobbling up the court and Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard picking him up at half court, the Clippers went on a late run to take a 57-55 lead into the half. They did this despite Blake Griffin being in foul trouble, as Griffin picked up his third foul early in the second.
Then Paul went wild, scoring 18 of his game high 27 points in the second half. He also dished out 6 assists and went 5-6 from the three point line.
“He’s just a tough kid,” Doc Rivers said postgame. “He’s just unbelievable. I know he was playing a little hurt, and he played through all that.”
The Clippers also got key contributions from some unlikely contributors. With DeAndre Jordan (7 points, 2 assists, 14 rebounds) very quiet, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes stepped up and delivered monster games. The Spurs early strategy to stick Kawhi Leonard on Redick backfired when Barnes went for 10 in the first quarter. He hit three three-pointers and played very tough defense on Kawhi Leonard, who had another uncharacteristically quiet game with only 13 points, 1 rebounds and 12 assists. Blake Griffin (24 points, 10 assist, 13 rebounds) was typically brilliant, knocking down elbow jumpers with ease and dominating the glass.
For the Spurs it was a team effort that fell just short. Tim Duncan (27 points, 1 assist, 11 rebounds) lead the way again and Tony Parker (20 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds) had perhaps his best game of the series, attacking the basket and being very aggressive. Danny Green (16 points, 3 assists, 8 rebounds) bounced back from a tough stretch in this series to have a very solid all-around game. Manu Ginobili (8 points, 7 assists, 2 rebounds) was very quiet and it looked really ugly when he bricked a wide open three off the backboard in the third quarter. He steadied himself and contributed in the fourth, but after this first round exit the future is uncertain for San Antonio.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are both free agents now, along with Kawhi Leonard, Marco Belinelli and Danny Green. The Popovich Era is rapidly coming to a close, and it’s one day closer after that heartbreaking loss.
For the Clippers it is on to the next round, where they will face off with Houston on Monday. Chris Paul is still banged up, but the Clippers will now have a chance to do something no Clipper team has ever done, and make it past the second round. They’ll do so after winning perhaps the greatest first round series in playoff history, and after giving us a fight to the end that will not soon be forgotten.
— Russell Simon
Image via Getty