SAN ANTONIO — The great rest debate skidded to a denouement in San Antonio on Saturday, with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich saying “nobody’s going to rest” in the last two games of the regular season on the heels of a 98-87 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The brief change seems to run counter to San Antonio’s normal philosophy, as it has rested six players this season for a total of 23 games.
“Our execution at both games, defensively and offensively, was very poor,” Popovich said. “Nobody’s going to rest. Everybody’s going to play. We already rested everybody, and we have days in between now. It’s like the playoffs, kind of. There’s no back-to-backs. There’s no bad travel or anything like that, so it’s time for rhythm and that sort of thing. Hopefully, we’ll play better next week.”
Fighting for home-court advantage in a first-round Western Conference series against the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz, the Clippers reeled off their fifth consecutive win with an aggressive and physical brand of ball the Spurs couldn’t match, according to Popovich.
Greg Popovich said he’s looking forward to improving ‘execution at both ends, defensively and offensively’ in the final two games of the season.
“They were more aggressive than we were,” Popovich said. “They wanted the game more. We were aggressive, got into them and showed the physicality and communication necessary to win against a good team for about six minutes of the third quarter, and that was that. We didn’t have enough physical toughness to compete with them.”
Popovich hopes the Spurs gain some of that by keeping them active and in a rhythm the final two games against two teams still fighting for playoff seeding. San Antonio faces the Portland Trail Blazers, which are fighting for the eighth seed, on the road Monday before closing out the season Wednesday in Utah against the Jazz, who currently own a half-game lead on the Clippers for home-court in the first-round series between the two.
With San Antonio firmly entrenched as the 2-seed, it faces a physical seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies squad in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs. The Spurs swept a Grizzlies club riddled by injury 4-0 last season, but this season, the teams tied the regular-season series 2-2.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers joked that even though Memphis is “trying to shoot more 3s and spread the floor more,” it is still “the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“At the end of the day, they are trying to punch you in the mouth and beat you up,” Rivers said. “You’d better remember who they are.”
That’s certainly what the Spurs plan to do as they prep to close the season and embark on what they expect to be a physical first-round matchup against the Grizzlies.
“It’s towards the end of the season, we’re getting ready for the playoffs, so guys have got to turn up the toughness, the physicality out there,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 18 points and took just five shots in the second half. “I think we didn’t bring it tonight, and they did. No excuses. They came in here, and they wanted to fight for home court. So they played harder than us tonight. I thought guys competed, but it’s time to turn it up another level, for sure.”
Chris Paul lit up San Antonio for 19 points and “sliced and diced us,” Popovich said. DeAndre Jordan chipped in 17 points and 17 rebounds as the Clippers outscored the Spurs 48-32 in the paint.
Kawhi Leonard, who led the Spurs with a game-high 28 points, believes the Spurs will benefit from playing the final two regular-season contests with a full squad as opposed to resting.
“Playing Portland, them being in the eighth seed trying to secure their position, that’s going to be tough playing them at home,” Leonard said. “These are the types of games we want to play. We just don’t want to walk over teams. We want teams to give their full effort, and we need to as well. It’s going to be a great last two games for us.”