LOS ANGELES— Home always brings a sense of comfort, but after two unforgiving weeks on the road, the Clippers were more consumed by exhaustion.
"This last trip felt like a month or so," Blake Griffin said.
If that were the case, it would have been understandable if they had come out flat Monday night in their return to Staples Center. An all-night flight, jet lag, one day to recover, and whoâs on their schedule? The San Antonio Spurs.
But the Clippers, road weary and still operating in another time zone, offered an impressive performance, one they can call on later in the season when things get difficult. In fact, it might have been epic.
If that’s overstating their 115-92 win, consider that the 23-point margin was the Clippers’ largest ever over the Spurs. They gave up 28 points in the first quarter but never allowed more than 22 in the final three periods.
"It tells you that they’re in it mentally," coach Doc Rivers said. "This would have been an easy game to have an excuse. San Antonio always finds a way to win these games. We found a way today to win the game."
They did it with staunch defense, with a 19-0 run in the second quarter and with an exceptional effort from forward Blake Griffin, who ran the court well, did a good job posting up on Tim Duncan and finished with 27 points, making 11 of 15 free throws.
The Clippers didn’t practice Sunday after returning home. Most of them crawled into their beds and slept. They skipped their morning shoot-around Monday and hoped they could summon enough energy for a Spurs team that was 19-4.
"Doc and our coaching staff, they do an amazing job making sure we’re well rested and making sure we’re in the right mindset going into every game," Chris Paul said. "We got back late, they gave us the day off and we met today before the game. We talked about it before the game and we couldn’t have any excuses. It’s another game on the schedule."
But the Spurs aren’t just another team. They went to the NBA Finals last season, and despite aging parts in their lineup, they remain favorites to win the Western Conference virtually every year.
So this win has to rank as significant, despite the fact Spurs point guard Tony Parker left the game late in the third quarter with a shin contusion and didn’t return. The Clippers were up seven points when he left, but their defense held up and their offense was relentless.
Paul had 23 points, and Jamal Crawford, making his second consecutive start had 17, including a 33-footer with 12 seconds left that represented the final dagger.
Not bad for a tired team.
"Even if you play one of the bottom teams coming out of a trip like that it’s usually a struggle to get going, with the jet lag and the time adjustment," Crawford said. "But to play an elite team like that — we started off slow, but we stayed with our principles in the second half and were able to come out with a win."
Before the game, Rivers called the Spurs the "gold standard" in the NBA. After the game, he said his team might have been weary, but it found the resolve to face a difficult challenge.
"They wanted to win really bad," he said. "They’re playing a great team. I guess the only silver lining in this game is that they’re easy to get up for. They’re the team to beat in the West. I thought our guys were ready to play."