During their first six games together, all losses, the new-look Clippers were crushed.
In their last three, all wins, they at last looked comfortable.
It’s their next five, all coming in a seven-day gantlet, that will give the best indication yet of who these Clippers really are.
In a game featuring a most unexpected moment — when San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich admonished the home crowd inside Frost Bank Center to “knock off the booing” as former Spurs star Kawhi Leonard shot first-half free throws — the Clippers did the expected Wednesday in a 109-102 win, beating reeling San Antonio, which has lost 10 consecutive games, for the second time in three days.
It was less a runaway rout than the Clippers showing they could stand up to some Spurs resistance, a result earned despite losing Norman Powell, the backup guard vital to some of their best lineups since acquiring James Harden three weeks ago, for the second half because of groin soreness. The Clippers (6-7) are now 6-0 when leading entering the fourth quarter.
Leonard scored 26 points, Paul George added 24 on 23 shots, and Harden scored 16 points with nine assists and six rebounds.
The Spurs (3-12) were game. They trimmed a 17-point, first-half lead to three before halftime, and an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter to five with 30 seconds to play. What made it more striking is that they also are no one’s idea of the Western Conference’s contender class, the standard by which the Clippers measure themselves even this early in a season. That group includes their next five opponents: New Orleans, Dallas, reigning champion Denver, Sacramento and Golden State. The run includes a pair of back-to-backs.
Leaving that five-game sample size with a winning record will require a cleaner effort than Wednesday. At one point late in the second quarter, the Spurs, who missed 14 of their first 15 shots, were shooting 27% to the Clippers’ 54% — and yet the Clippers led only by eight because they’d turned the ball over nine times in 24 minutes, two more than they committed in Monday’s victory.
Their lead, which grew to as many as 17 with 6:48 left in the second quarter, and still 12 with 2:53 remaining, shrunk all the way to three amid a calamitous close to the first half. And that didn’t include losing Powell, who had become a favorite option to play off the bench with the starting lineup while shooting 43% from three to start the season.
It was with three minutes to play in the first half and fans upset either because of the officials’ refusal to overturn a call against the Spurs, or the presence of Leonard — who has endured boos virtually every time he has touched the ball since returning to San Antonio since asking out from the franchise in 2018 — that Popovich walked toward the scorer’s table.
“Excuse me for a second,” the coach said. “Can we stop all the booing and let these guys play? It’s got no class, it’s not who we are. Knock off the booing.”
The second half felt like a repeat, almost down to the exact second the Clippers’ grip on the lead weakened. Up 18 this time with 6:47 to play in the fourth quarter, they again struggled to turn possessions into points and close out the Spurs.
The Clippers finished with 16 turnovers.