Just like an effacing tide, Chris Paul returned on Friday.
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.
Paul scored 17 points after missing the last five weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb, but his return to the court was not enough as the Los Angeles Clippers dropped their second straight game, 105-97, to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at Staples Center.
"The only thing that matters is how we did as a team," said Paul after the game. "I came out unscathed which is great. It felt great to be back out on the court. It was a tough loss, but it felt good to through an entire game."
Led by Blake Griffin's game-high 29 points, the Clippers held a nine-point lead at one point in the third quarter, but like a caged creature, fatigue factored in as they faded down the stretch into the lusterless Los Angeles night.
"It felt like the same way when Blake [Griffin] came back in the first game, we were moving, but we just weren't in sync," said Clippers' head coach Doc Rivers. "We knew that would happen a little bit. I thought our second unit got us going in the first half."
L.A. was taking the court on the heels of a high profile back-to-back in Oakland against the team with the NBA's best record in the Golden State Warriors.
Less than 24 hours after allowing 50 points to Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and company in the third quarter of an eventual 10-point loss, the Clippers had to take the court again against a fully rested Spurs team sporting the league's second best record.
"Both teams were very aggressive, very physical and it was a good game," added Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. "I thought our defense was pretty decent throughout and down the stretch and we made some shots."
Kawhi Leonard battled through foul trouble to record 21 points and San Antonio received a boost from center Pau Gasol who returned to the court for the first time since January 19, when he fractured his left hand during pregame warm-ups.
"It was fun," Leonard said of having to play with five fouls through most of the third and fourth quarters. "I was just waiting, trying to stay ready until my turn was called. My mind was on the [five fouls], but coach did a good job of putting in someone else."
Gasol chipped in 17 points off the bench including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc to help the Spurs start the second half of their schedule with a victory.
"I had low expectations, but at the same time, I worked really hard with the staff," Gasol said of his return. "All of the training staff was on me every single day, working twice a day so, that when I get back, I will be ready to go and it won't be too hard. So, it really paid off."
Austin Rivers had another hot-shooting night, scoring 23 points in just 26 minutes off the bench.
The loss drops the Clippers to 5-7 on the second night of back-to-backs and they are now a full game behind the Utah Jazz for fourth place in the Western Conference standings.
The Clippers will host Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.