SANANTONIO-- None of them came out and said it after practice Friday, but truth be told, the Spurs headed into the weekend hoping to start their Western Conference semifinal series Sunday.
But that would have entailed admitting they were pulling for the Los Angeles Clippers, then up 3-2 against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, to close out their series Friday night in Los Angeles.
The Grizzlies eked out a 90-88 victory to force Game 7 Sunday in Memphis, and moved closer to a rematch with the team they upset in last year's first round.
But just when it appeared as though the Spurs would get an opportunity to atone for one of the biggest disappointments in the franchise's postseason history, the Clippers punched their ticket to the Western Conference semifinals with a stirring 82-72 victory over the Grizzlies on Sunday.
The Spurs, who haven't played since completing a sweep of the Utah Jazz last Monday, and the Clippers start their best-of-7 series at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the AT&T Center.
I was kind of expecting to play on Sunday, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. But it is what it is. We earned ourselves this break. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn't. But we had time to practice.
TheClippers, who originated as the Buffalo Braves in 1970, have won only three playoff series in 41 years and just two since the franchise moved from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984.
The Spurs mobilized quickly Sunday afternoon, watching video of the Clippers before hitting the floor for another spirited, physical workout.
Spurs riding 14-game winning streak
At least now we know who we're playing, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. Life is a little crazy preparing for two teams at once. One day you think somebody is going to win and it changes and it goes back, and it went back and forth. These guys went after each other and played a great series.
Popovich was direct when asked how he thought the pace of the games against the Clippers will compare to the one the Spurs saw in their first-round series.
I don't know, he said. We haven't played a game yet. You never know. It's dangerous to think ahead and think you can decide exactly how things are going to go. It's a little bit better to roll with it and make your adjustments and see what's going to happen. You try to do what you do, just like the Clippers will, and see how it goes.
Seeded No. 1 in the Western Conference, the Spurs head into their series against the Clippers riding a 14-game winning streak.
While the Clippers are led by All-Star point guard Chris Paul and All-Star forward Blake Griffin, Popovich had plenty of good things to say about the Clippers' bench, which outscored the Grizzlies backups 27-3 in the second half Sunday and 41-11 for the game.
Their bench has done a great job, Popovich said. They're a good defensive group. Physical. They push the pace. They've really been important all year long, basically, and especially in this series.
The Clippers, who finished the regular season 40-26 and advanced to the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the West, are coached by former Spurs guard Vinny Del Negro.
Popovich coached Del Negro for two seasons
Del Negro played six seasons with the Spurs (1992-98) before signing with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1999. Del Negro was with the Spurs when Popovich fired Bob Hill early in the 1996-97 season and became the team's head coach. Popovich was also the Spurs'general manager and director of basketball operations back then.
Popovich was asked Sunday if he saw something in Del Negro then that would have made him think he had the potential to be an NBA coach someday.
He was one of those guys who actually was limited athletically, Popovich said. He actually jumped pretty good. I think he'll want credit for that. But as far as overall athleticism, compared to the people he played against, he was limited.
It made him smart. He was a great pick-and-roll player, and really understood all the nuances of it. He knows what wins and loses. He had a feel for the game. There's usually about one to three people on every team like that, they really get it, and he was one of those guys.
The Spurs were 2-1 against the Clippers during the lockout-shortened regular season, winning 115-90 Dec. 28 at home and 103-100 in overtime Feb. 18 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Led by Paul and backup guard Mo Williams, the Clippers rolled to a 120-108 victory against the Spurs March 9 at the AT&T Center. The Silver and & Black have lost only one more game at home since then.
Paul finished with 36 points and 11 assists in the victory against the Spurs, with Williams adding 33 points. Williams hit 12 of 19 shots, including 7 of 9 from beyond 3-point range. Paul and Williams made a combined 24 of 41 field-goal attempts in their last game at the AT&T Center.
For sure, they're a team that plays hard, Ginobili said. They have great shooters. They have a point guard that creates for everybody, and always somebody in the paint that's aggressive, pushing and setting good screens. They have great role players, great leader, bigs, so it's a complete team.
Spurs vs. Clippers schedule
Western Conference semifinals
Game 1: at San Antonio, Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.
Game 2: at San Antonio,Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
Game 3: at Los Angeles, Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Game 4: at Los Angeles, Sunday, May 20, 9:30 p.m.
*Game 5: at San Antonio, Tuesday, May 22, time TBA
*Game 6: at Los Angeles, Friday, May 25, time TBA
*Game 7: at San Antonio,May 27, time TBA
* if necessary
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