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Suffocating defense, Kawhi’s career night give Spurs 2-1 lead over Clippers

In case you missed it, the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award on Thursday.

Apparently, the award inspired the rest of his team to clamp down on defense as well.

On Friday, the Spurs routed the Los Angeles Clippers 100-73 to take a 2-1 series lead in the team’s Western Conference first-round playoff matchup. The Clippers had the league’s most-efficient offense during the regular season and the 73 points Los Angeles scored were 12 points fewer than its previous season low of 85. Who was the opponent in the Clippers’ earlier offensive night of futility?

You guessed it, the Spurs on Nov. 10.

A plethora of factors led to Los Angeles’ offensive struggles on Friday night: a level of energy which paled in comparison to San Antonio’s, cold shooting and most of all, the Spurs’ sharp defensive rotations.

Rarely did you see a Clippers player with a truly good shot. Most of Los Angeles’ attempts were tightly contested by a San Antonio player or taken at an awkward angle that gave the ball a very slim chance to fall in the hoop. For the game, the Clippers shot a paltry 34.1 percent from the field, but the number was under 30 for a large chunk of the second half before garbage time commenced early in the fourth quarter.

But you don’t win by 27 points by playing well on only one side of the ball.

So when the Spurs needed offense, who did they turn to? Duh, their recently-crowned DEFENSIVE Player of the Year. Leonard scored 32 points, a career high for both the playoffs and regular season. He shot 13-of-18 from the field, draining difficult shots from all areas of the court. His total would’ve been easily if Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich didn’t limit his minutes so much in the blowout.

The Claw’s best play of the night was unquestionably a filthy alley-oop dunk from Danny Green. I won’t even attempt to describe it, so just watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBYQz71vBr0

If you’re looking for a second banana on the Spurs from Friday night, there wasn’t really one guy that stuck out near as much as Kawhi. Boris Diaw was fantastic, however, contributing 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and doing his part to limit Blake Griffin’s power game inside.

The Clippers got very quiet games from their Big Three of Chris Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The players combined for just 31 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists. Those numbers are significantly lower than Game 1 (67, 33 and 13, respectively) and Game 2 (70, 35 and 18).

With that inadequate production from the Clippers’ stars, the Spurs jumped out to a quick lead in the first quarter and gradually built on it for the remainder of the contest.

If you’re looking for silver linings on the Los Angeles side (or dark clouds on the San Antonio side), Spurs point guard Tony Parker still doesn’t look himself with his Achilles injury. The Frenchman scored six points and dished out three assists on 3-of-11 shooting in 26 minutes of playing time.

The Clippers already had an advantage at the point guard position with Paul being better than a healthier Parker, but now it’s a full-fledged mismatch. CP3 will have to make Parker work hard on defense (when Leonard or Danny Green isn’t on him) to give the Clippers a chance of coming back in the series.

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