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 did the bulk of 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.
“Offensively, I thought we took advantage of them double-teaming, got to our spacing, our right spacing, moved the basketball and took care of the basketball which has been one of our problems this season,” said Lue, pointing to their low number of turnovers.
“Only having five turnovers is huge for us, so PG and Kawhi having 14 assists and no turnovers is big when you’re playing through your two big guys like that. … Like I said, we’re trending upwards but we still got a long way to go, we got to continue to work to get where we want to get to but I like where we’re at right now.”
Things have definitely turned around for a group that opened the season with lofty expectations before injuries and absences left them struggling to find consistency and string wins together.
“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.
“Well defensively I thought we did a good job of just understanding the game plan, sticking to our principles, taking away the back cuts, taking away the middle drives,” Lue said. “I thought we did a decent job of that.
“It’s a tough team because they keep you in close-out situations, but I thought overall we did a pretty good job of sticking to the game plan.”
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 also efficient starting 4 for 7. 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.
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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,” Lue said.