The Los Angeles Clippers secured their ticket to the second round of the Western Conference in dramatic fashion, beating the San Antonio Spurs 111-109 in game 7. A series that had featured the intensity and drama of a Finals series came to its end on Sunday with a decider that will be archived as an instant classic – and the climax of arguably the best first-round series in NBA history.
Both teams went at each other (31 lead changes, 16 ties) until the final second. No shenanigans, but pure basketball between two of the best teams in the league. In the end, the Clippers prevailed on a tough game-winning runner by Chris Paul over the outstretched arms of Tim Duncan with 1.0 seconds left on the clock.
Paul injured his left hamstring in the first half and had to go to the locker room for treatment. He came back into the game, but was clearly bothered by the injury. It didn’t matter: Paul willed his team to victory with huge three-pointers (5-of-6) and floaters in the lane, finishing with 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting. With Paul unable to distribute the ball, the Clippers turned to Blake Griffin again to get his teammates good looks. Griffin had a triple-double, scoring 24 points, along with 13 rebounds and 10 assists. His performance throughout the series has not gone unnoticed, averaging 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 7.4 assists, which no one else in playoff history has ever managed.
The Spurs left the arena empty-handed but with the class you’d expect for a Gregg Popovich-coached team – with their heads up high. They will have an interesting summer as Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kahwi Leonard (restricted) and Danny Green are all free agents. It might be possible we have witnessed the end of an era, a decade and a half of dominance resulting in five NBA titles.
Meanwhile, the Clippers advance to the second round, where the Houston Rockets will be waiting for them after taking care of the Dallas Mavericks in five games. The Rockets and Clippers won two games each in the regular season, with a match-up between two of the most talented offensive teams in the conference looming. Game 1 will be in Houston, May 5, 11:30 AEST.