LOS ANGELES — The last time the Clippers played the San Antonio Spurs, they were mired in a slump, having lost nine of 11 games. This time?
The Clippers (27-24) are enjoying a winning streak, extending it to a season-high four games with a 138-100 victory against the same Spurs team they struggled to beat six days earlier.
“Yeah, things feel different. We still got a long way to go, but things do feel different,” Coach Tyronn Lue said. “When you win, it changes a lot of things, but we are getting better in certain areas, especially offensively. I think we’re turning the corner in that regard.”
Offensively, the Clippers again got solid production from Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, who took over the scoring. George had a game-high 35 points on 14-of-19 shooting (5 for 8 from 3-point range), seven assists and four rebounds, while Leonard finished with 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting and seven assists.
“I think offensively over the last 10 games, we have ranked third in the league in offense,” Lue said. “It was something we struggled with at the beginning of the season with Kawhi and PG and those other guys out. So, now I think offensively we’re, we’re kind of figuring it out.”
Even defensively, the Clippers made slightly more stops than the last time they saw the Spurs (14-35), which resulted in a 131-126 shootout in San Antonio.
Center Ivica Zubac watched film of the Clippers’ previous game against the Spurs, and while the combined 257 points scored two weeks ago might have been fun for the fans, he thought it was somewhat cringeworthy.
“We talk about it,” he said about playing defense. “We just have to do it (make defensive stops) on the court. Do better.”
The Clippers are giving up an average of 110.6 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot 53.3% shooting from the field. They limited the Spurs, who were without standout forward Jeremy Sochan (quadriceps), to 45.1% shooting.
Keldon Johnson led the Spurs with 19 points and Keita Bates-Diop, who replaced Sochan in the lineup, finished with 13 points. San Antonio has lost nine of its past 10 games and 12 of 14.
“I just think defensively we got to do a good job of just understanding our concepts, locking into what we’re trying to do defensively every single night,” Lue said. “And like not having a lot of game plan mistakes happen defensively. So, we got to be better with that, but we are trending in the right direction, but we got a long way to go.”
The Clippers avoided a shootout at Crypto.com Arena by jumping out to an early lead. Leonard made five of his first seven shots and George was equally efficient with four of seven field goals. By halftime, Leonard had 18 points and George 22 to lead the Clippers to a 78-57 lead.
They led by as many as 34 in the second half and shot 58.4% from the field as they enjoyed a near-healthy roster. Twelve players scored in the victory and combined to make 18 3-pointers.
Norman Powell had 15 points, while Zubac had 11 points and five rebounds.
Guard Reggie Jackson had another solid showing with 12 points and three assists and Robert Covington finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
The roster was further boosted with the return of guard Luke Kennard, who had missed the past nine games because of a lingering calf injury. Kennard started in his first game back and finished with five points in 17 minutes.
John Wall (abdominal injury) and Marcus Morris Sr. (rib contusion) continue to be sidelined.
Not everything went perfectly for the Clippers. They gave up 52 points in the paint and 16 second-chance points. Still, Lue was happy with the way his team played.
“Things are getting better, our two guys (Leonard and George) are playing, they’re healthy. And so that’s a positive thing for us.”
More to come on this story.