Win or go home.
Game 7 of the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers arrived Saturday evening at the STAPLES Center, and it did not disappoint.
In a game that saw 31 lead changes and 16 ties, the Clippers came out on top with a game-winning bank shot by Chris Paul.
Hobbled by a hamstring strain suffered late in the first quarter, Paul was sensational in carrying his team to this crucial Game 7 triumph. He finished with 27 points, none bigger than the two he hit with one second left in the contest to eventually give his team the win. He also added six assists and shot 9 of 13 from the field.
This game went back and forth the entire evening, with no team gaining any traction. The biggest lead by any of the teams was eight, which was early in the game by the Spurs.
It was a dog fight with a lot of physical play, players getting hurt, and emotions riding high. The first quarter ended with the Spurs up two. The second quarter ended with the Clippers up two.
The second half was capped off by big shot after big shot both ways. Every time the Spurs hit an enormous shot, the Clippers answered and vice versa. Late in the third, after Paul had re-aggravated his hamstring injury, he went back to the bench but came back in to hit an improbable, long three-pointer at the buzzer to put the Clippers ahead by one proceeding into the final stanza.
A shootout took place early in the fourth, with the teams exchanging three-point buckets. The Spurs ultimately pulled ahead by five with under five minutes remaining. However, J.J. Redick came alive, burying two massive three-pointers to give his team the lead again.
In the late stages of the game, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan exchanged two free throws, knotting the game at 109. With possession of the ball, the Clippers called a timeout with eight ticks left on the clock. The ball was inbounded to Paul who drove the lane and tossed a one-handed shot over the outstretched arm of Duncan and miraculously banked it in, giving the Clippers a 111-109 lead.
With one second left, Gregg Popovich called for time. Popovich drew up an alley-oop play for Kawhi Leonard, but the pass was knocked away by Matt Barnes, sealing the victory for the Clippers and ending a masterpiece of a game.
The Clippers won the series 4-3 to advance to the semifinals to play the second-seeded Houston Rockets, while knocking out the defending champions San Antonio Spurs.
Blake Griffin filled up the stat sheet once again, recording a triple-double for the second time this series. He scored 24 points, nabbed 13 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists on 50 percent shooting and 10 of 11 from the line. Matt Barnes put in his best playoffs performance in this one, scoring 17 points on 7 of 13 shooting. Redick added 14 points, including four three-pointers.
Fast break points hurt the Spurs, as the Clippers had 15 to the Spurs’ two. Clippers’ three-point shooting was also top notch, as they hit 14 of their 27 attempts, good for 52 percent. The Spurs dominated the paint, scoring 50 of their points from that area as opposed to the Clippers’ 36.
Tim Duncan recorded another double-double with 27 points and 11 rebounds in what could have been his final game as an NBA player. However, Duncan has not mentioned retirement just yet. Tony Parker had his best game of the series, contributing 20 points, five assists, and five rebounds.
Danny Green, who had been struggling all series long, came alive to score 16 points, grab eight rebounds, and block five shots on 50 percent shooting. Kawhi Leonard totaled 13 points and 10 rebounds but was kept quiet most of the game.
Bench play had been the biggest factor in this series, but in this game, it was nearly identical.
This epic first-round series finally came to an end. For the Clippers, it’s time to prepare for a new series. For the Spurs, they will go on vacation sooner than expected this season, with a lot of question marks surrounding the team.
Will this be the end of an era?
Game 1 of the Clippers and Rockets will be on Monday, May 4th.