In Tuesday night’s Game 5 marked by numerous momentum shifts, extreme highs and lows of basketball quality and a lot of free throws (79, to be exact), neither the San Antonio Spurs nor the Los Angeles Clippers were able to find a serious rhythm. Once the first 10 minutes of the game had elapsed, the squads kept the score close until the final buzzer.
But one team made the biggest plays in crunch time: the defending champion Spurs, who pulled out a 111-107 victory. With the win in Los Angeles, the Spurs now hold a 3-2 series advantage and can close out the Clippers in San Antonio on Thursday night.
Instead of going up one point with four seconds to go in the game, Los Angeles remained down one. From then, the Spurs closed out the contest with free throws.
However, the Spurs didn’t gain an advantage on the Clippers from stellar starter play—it was all the reserves. For the game, San Antonio’s bench scored 48 points on 26 shots, with a combined plus-minus of plus-45. Los Angeles’ bench, on the other hand, scored just 17 points on 23 shots, accruing a minus-13 in its collective time on the court.
There were several memorable moments from the Spurs’ reserves that are worth highlighting.
Patty Mills came into the game in the first quarter, helping San Antonio erase an early 14-point deficit with four three-pointers in the contest. He was even fouled on one of the long-range baskets:
In quarter No. 2, Matt Bonner acted as floor-spacer and Hack-a-Jordan implementer. He nailed one three-pointer but used up four fouls hacking Jordan, who went 7-of-16 from the free throw line during the game.
Marco Belinelli made both of his three-point attempts, one to close the third frame and another near the beginning of the fourth. Boris Diaw also hit two big shots in the closing quarter, one a three-pointer and another a mid-range prayer as the shot clock was winding down to preserve the Spurs’ lead.
On the Clippers’ side, only three reserves even saw any floor time. Jamal Crawford wasn’t on his game (4-of-15 shooting), and Austin Rivers and Glen Davis rarely have games where they make a serious impact. Tonight was no exception.
That was the difference in the game—the Spurs’ starters had reserves replacing them who could actually contribute while the Clippers’ starters were depended on for almost everything.
Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 30 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. But when you consider he was 1-of-9 from the field, 0-of-2 from the free-throw line and committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter, his stat line loses some of its luster. Chris Paul did add a smooth 19 points, five rebounds and 10 assists to help the Clippers’ cause.
Rivers’s Game 4 brilliance temporarily masked Los Angeles’ depth problem. If the Clippers are to come back and win this series, they’ll either need a couple more Rivers-in-Game 4-esque performances or superhuman production from their starters.
Don’t count out Los Angeles in this series, but things will have to change.