Beware the Ides of March?
Visiting NBA teams had better beware The AT&T Center.
The Spurs perfect record on their home court faced a hard reality on Tuesday night. It was, after all, the day that the Bard warned the world about: March 15. And, after 32 straight victories in their renovated home, they were facing the last visiting team that had walked off the court a winner.
It was last April 30 when the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Spurs at AT&T Center and because it was Game 6 of a first-round playoff series the NBA’s official records add the final nine regular season games of the 2014-15 season to this season’s home win total to rank the team’s home court win streak among the longest in league history, now ranking third, all-time.
The Spurs know better and still have a chip on their shoulder about that April 30 home court loss that kept them from advancing to the second round of the 2015 playoffs.
So when the Clippers, No. 4 in the Western Conference, came into the arena Tuesday off a disheartening home court loss of their own it didn’t matter much that they said they were determined to put that 24-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the rearview mirror and get back on a winning track.
And for three quarters, the Clippers seemed capable of determining their own destiny, even at the previously impenetrable AT&T Center. They entered the fourth quarter trailing by a single point, and then only because Spurs forward Kyle Anderson had beaten the third-period buzzer to nail a 13-foot floater that put the Spurs ahead, 71-70. Their All-Star point guard, Chris Paul, had made 9-of-15 shots and scored 22 points.
What happened in the fourth period is sure to become part of the burgeoning lore of the Spurs home court: A 20-point Spurs domination that produced a 108-87, the 33rd straight home win of the season and, yes, the 42nd straight regular season home court win, as long as you ignore the two games the Clippers won at AT&T in the playoffs.
Tuesday’s fourth-quarter ascendancy by the Spurs was sparked by the 3-point shooting of Danny Green and Patty Mills and the defensive work of Kawhi Leonard, who continues to climb the NBA’s MVP ladder.
Mills, the 6-foot Australian whose perpetual energy often seems contagious, scored 7 of his 15 points in the final period and assisted on two more baskets.
“You could tell Patty was fired up, celebrating his shots, somebody else’s (shots), hustling,” said veteran guard Manu Ginobili, who scored 13 points. “He was a difference-maker today. It doesn’t surprise us. We need him to be like that coming from the bench. And Pop even rewarded him playing some minutes at (shooting guard) because of the way he was playing.”
Green, whose lone 3-point make in Saturday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder provided a fourth-quarter spark, made two 3-pointers in the fourth against the Clippers and made 4-of-5 from long range for the game.
Green wants to believe some extra hours in the film room revealed the flaw in his shooting stroke that had caused him to miss 32-of-37 shots from beyond the arc before Tuesday’s game.
“I realized there was one minor detail I was missing on the shots I missed,” Green said. “It was a very minor detail that helped me make the one that I made (against the Thunder). It only took me 70 games to figure it out. Hopefully it will continue to work.”
“I can’t tell you,” Green said, smiling. “If you were a shooter you’d probably pick up on it.”
Leonard’s contribution was disrupting the flow of the Clippers offense by clamping down on Paul in the second half. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich matched up Leonard against Paul to start the half after the Clippers leader had scored 18 points in the first half.
Leonard, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, made life miserable for Paul, who missed 4-of-5 shots in the second half and went scoreless in the fourth.
Paul shrugged off a suggestion he had been forced out of his comfort zone by Leonard.
“I just do what I do,” Paul said. “Played seven games against him last year in the playoffs. Kawhi is an excellent player, a great defender, but I’m going to do what I’ve got to do, regardless.”
Leonard called the diminution of Paul’s effectiveness a result of team defense.
“We just wanted to push him left and make his passing difficult. He can do it all – pass, shoot the 3, mid-range, layups. So just try to stay on him and contest his shot. I’m happy we got the win more than anything. I thought we did a pretty good job on him.”
Leonard’s teammates understand his role in the defensive scheme makes them better defenders.
“It’s definitely not a bad security blanket to have when you can put him on (a point guard),” Mills said. “But just knowing everyone’s role in the game plan I think is the biggest thing.”
*Top Image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.