Ten games into the season, they won perhaps their most significant game so far — even bigger than victories over Memphis, the Lakers and the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
They won on the road. In San Antonio.
Their gritty, grind-it-out 92-87 win Monday night over the Spurs was a confirmation of what they’ve shown so far at Staples Center. If they’re not the best team in the Western Conference, they’re very close.
The Clippers are 8-2, they’ve won six in a row and they’ve matched the best 10-game start in franchise history. But just as important was winning in San Antonio; the Spurs swept them from the playoffs last season and held a 64-8 edge all time in San Antonio.
But the Clippers now have beaten the Spurs twice this season by a combined 27 points. They did it Monday with another effective performance from the bench and by hitting big shots down the stretch when the Spurs made a charge in the final few minutes.
After the Spurs closed to two points on a three-point basket by Matt Bonner, the Clippers responded with two big shots. Eric Bledsoe’s rebound and layup following a miss by Chris Paul was followed by a basket by San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili. But then Paul sank turn-around jumper over Tony Parker with 24.9 seconds left that gave the Clippers a four-point cushion, 91-87.
“This is a good grind-out win for us, especially starting this tough road trip,” Paul said.
It was. The Clippers make a stop in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, then play back-to-back games at the end of the week in Brooklyn and Atlanta. They’re the NBA’s only unbeaten road team with a 3-0 record.
Paul had 19 points and eight assists, and Blake Griffin had a double-double: 16 points and 12 rebounds. But the reserves — again — played a pivotal role.
With Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and backups Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes in the game, the Clippers went on a 21-3 run in the second quarter to take a 41-33 lead. The Spurs last lead in the game came with 6 minutes 2 seconds left in the second quarter, 33-32.
“We got off to a very, very bad start,” Paul said, “but our bench is not your typical bench. They got the lead for us. But Matt Barnes gets the game ball tonight. If you notice, he played just about the whole second half…. He won the game for us.”
Barnes played almost 35 minutes and had 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting and nine rebounds. Reserve forward Ronny Turiaf played just five minutes but scored two big baskets and added three offensive rebounds.
The only downer was the fact starting forward Caron Butler sustained a strained right shoulder. He played just nine minutes and was scoreless.
But the Clippers have the manpower to overcome a loss in personnel. And they’ll need it Wednesday against the Thunder, who advanced to the NBA Finals last season before losing to the Heat.
“This sets a great tone, especially the way we won,” Paul said. “All season long, it’s not going to be one guy with 30 or 40 points. It’s a team effort every night for us.”