It’s not unusual for teams to be rusty in the first game after the NBA’s annual All-Star break, players having just escaped to favorite getaway resorts for the better part of the weeklong hiatus from basketball.
It’s hard to return to regular season focus and precision after forgetting about the game for so long.
Add the tension of the league’s annual trade deadline day and an unanticipated injury to an All-Star and you get added levels of imprecision.
And for some of the Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers, there was an emotional load added to the return to basketball in their post-break game at The Staples Center in Los Angeles.
It’s little wonder that the first three quarters of Thursday’s game featured some of the worst basketball of the season for the Spurs and some play by the Clippers that was sloppy enough to keep things competitive.
Ultimately, the Clippers scored a 105-89 win that snapped the Spurs’ six-game win streak and gave San Antonio just its ninth loss of the season, 45-9.
The Spurs recovered from their worst first half of the season and cut 15 points from a 20-point Clippers lead to make things interesting early in the fourth quarter. From that point, Los Angeles’ All-Star point guard, Chris Paul, dominated, scoring 15 points and handing out three assists, reminiscent of his play in Game 7 of the Spurs-Clippers first-round playoff series last season. He finished with 28 points and 12 assists.
After missing his first six shots, Spurs guard Tony Parker led the team with 14 points.
Even Paul understood how poorly both teams had played in the first half, when the Spurs scored a season-low 34 points in a half.
“That first half was ugly,” Paul told TNT sideline reporter Stacey Dales in a televised post-game interview. “Sorry to all the fans who were watching.”
Paul was one of five participants in Thursday’s game who were in Oklahoma City on Thursday for a memorial service in Oklahoma City for Ingrid Williams, the wife of former Spurs player and assistant coach Monty Williams who died in an automobile accident last week. Popovich, who coached Williams and gave him his start in coaching, also attended, as did Spurs captain Tim Duncan, who played on the 1997-98 Spurs with Williams, and Spurs forward David West, who played under Williams after he became head coach of the New Orleans Hornets. Clippers coach Doc Rivers also attended the service.
The attendees did not return to Los Angeles until early evening on Thursday, whereupon Popovich learned that All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard was being held out of the game by the team’s medical staff after complaining of tightness in his left calf.
The game became a reflection of all the distractions both teams had faced on what is always one of the wackiest days of the season, though it was the first time trade deadline day coincided with the first day of play after the All-Star break.
There never was a strong possibility the Spurs were going to make a roster move before the deadline.
Start with the fact the Spurs entered Thursday’s game with a record of 45-8 that had them on pace for the best record in franchise history.
Then consider the transition the team already had undergone after the restructuring of the roster last summer brought two new key players who had to be integrated into a system full of savvy veterans and a few other newcomers.
With LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Jonathan Simmons, Ray McCallum and Boban Marjanovic finally comfortable with their roles and how they fit in Gregg Popovich’s hierarchy, the notion of tweaking the roster probably wasn’t very high on general manager R.C. Buford’s to-do list, and less so after he learned he would have to move forward without one of his trusted assistants. Sean Marks, a former Spurs player who also served as one of Popovich’s assistant coaches, was announced as the new general manager of the Brooklyn Nets.
The Clippers entered the game in a state of mild turmoil, what with star forward Blake Griffith still out with a broken finger on his right (shooting) hand after a fight with one of the team’s athletic trainers, and with backup guard Austin Rivers on the injured list with a broken bone in his left hand. They had been active in trade talks and ended up making one of the better moves of deadline day, sending swing man Lance Stephenson and a lottery-protected future No. 1 draft pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for combo forward Jeff Green.
Top Image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.