LOS ANGELES-It was fitting that Game 7 of the NBA Western Conference first round series between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs would be played on the night when the boxing world was at the center of attention with the Floyd “Money” Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao welterweight championship bout holding court.
Like the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, the Clippers-Spurs series went wire-to-wire. For seven games, the Clippers and Spurs went toe-to-toe with each other. Jabs were thrown. Each team counterpunched one another with TKO flurries. But just when you thought it was over for one team, both the Clippers and Spurs picked themselves off of the mat to come back for more.
For seven games that is what we got from these two teams. It was punch-counterpunch. The Spurs would come through with a left uppercut. The Clippers would answered the bell with an overhand right. Chris Paul finally delivered the knockout blow. The San Antonio Spurs are now done. Toast.
That’s because Paul came through for the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7 of the Western Conference first round series against the San Antonio Spurs with the type of mettle and grit that champions have in their DNA. Willis Reed would be so proud.
Shaking off an early game malady, Paul willed his way and the Clippers to a heart-thumping 111-109 win against the Spurs at Staples Center Saturday night in Game 7. After a taxing, back-and-forth game between the two teams, much like it had been through the first six games, the series came down to one play. Paul made the play to give the Clippers the opportunity to advance to the next round.
The Spurs get to go home.
“He’s just a tough kid,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after the win. “That’s it. Tough. He’s just a tough-he’s a street fighter. I mean, he really is. He’s a street fighter. I love him to death because of his will.”
That will Rivers talked about was no more evident than on the Clippers’ final possession of the ballgame. Paul scored 18 of his team-high 27 points in the second half, and made sure the Spurs were sent off to a long, extended summer vacation. Weaving his way through a forest of Spurs defenders, including going over the outreached arm of Tim Duncan to heave a miracle shot that dropped in for the game-winner with one second left in Game 7, Paul and the Clippers effectively eliminated the defending world champions from the postseason.
But it took everything out of them, Rivers said.
“Well, the one thing it did, it made them tired,” said Rivers. “That’s the one thing. That was an exhausting series for both teams. Even though the Spurs played more bench overall except for to tonight, that’s the point I always make, those big games, everybody’s benches get small, but I think just going through it and seeing them-like I think if we if we had won the series against someone else, we probably would have been happy, obviously, and we would have won the series.
“But playing against them (Spurs), it’s like being taught during a competition on how to act, how to play, and how to trust. You know, they did it and then we did it. They did it and then we did it. You think Matt Barnes’ three was a trust pass. Guy was covered, threw it to the open guy, Matt Barnes is wide open, he made a three. They came down, did the exact same thing. Just playing against them absolutely was a great lesson for us, as well.”
Amazingly, one second and two points was all that separated the two teams. The Clippers’ taut, back-and-forth, series-clinching win showed how much the team have grown since the last the time the Clippers encountered the Spurs. Back in 2012, the Spurs did a number on Los Angeles, rolling their way to a 4-0 lopsided sweep. Paul and the Clippers clearly have taken more than a step to enter the running for the NBA title with their grind-it-out series with the Spurs.
For the Spurs, though, the run is over.
“It was a tough series,” Boris Diaw said. “It was a tough match [up] tonight just like the series-it was neck-to-neck. They did a better job than we did, and that’s why they won the game. We can;t say that we lost the game just because of that last shot. I think we lost the game before that. We could have been up, and we could have been better.”