The Clippers found out just how good they can be when the playoffs begin in April.
They didn’t beat the San Antonio Spurs, but they did the next best thing. They played the Spurs tough on the road and had a chance to win before finally bowing 104-102 at AT&T Center.
The Clippers will view the game as a lost opportunity, but they should also see it as valid proof that they’re capable of contending for a conference title. And if they should match up against the Spurs in the postseason, they know they can win.
San Antonio has the best record in the Western Conference at 55-17, but the Clippers spit their four-game series and could have sent Friday’s game into overtime had Chris Paul been able to score at the buzzer – or had the officials called a foul on Paul’s shot.
Paul was livid he wasn’t awarded two free throws, but referees are reluctant to blow their whistles in the final moments of close games. So the Clippers were left without a chance to claim their 50th win of the season and set a franchise record for victories.
They are currently fourth in the conference, a half game behind the Denver Nuggets. If the Clippers meet the Spurs again, it wouldn’t be until the conference finals.
But the Clippers have shown they’re ready. They’re 1-2 on their current four-game trip, but they could have beaten the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday before losing in overtime and came back from nine points down in the fourth quarter against the Spurs.
They had a 102-101 lead with 31 seconds left, but Tim Duncan, who had 34 points and 11 rebounds for San Antonio, converted a three-point play. Paul’s miss was the game’s final play.
“It’s a fine line between winning and losing,” Jamal Crawford said after the game, and it’s a fine line between the third and fifth spots in the conference. Only one game separates the Clippers, Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies, although all three teams have 24 losses.
There’s still a lot to be decided, and the Clippers have time to lock up the No. 3 seed. But they shouldn’t be discouraged by the loss to the Spurs.
If anything, they should be encouraged. When the playoffs begin, they clearly will be game ready.