On Tuesday night at Staples Center, the Clippers started strong and jumped out to an early advantage behind Blake Griffin's perfect start and Chris Paul's game management. Griffin made his first five shots, as the 26-year-old forward continued to make a strong case for being the best player in the opening round series.
With Griffin making shots, Clippers point guard Chris Paul differed to his teammates and collected six assists in the first quarter. Paul managed to find four different players in the process, rather than only focus on getting Griffin the ball. Paul's impact on the game became difficult to ignore from the onset.
Before the game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had foreshadowed, "(Paul's) not somebody that we are going to be able to stop."
With Paul and Griffin leading the way, the Clippers would open up an early 14-point lead. However, the Spurs would hardly throw in the towel, as the experienced defending champions would quickly turn the game around with their second unit. Patty Mills would quickly contribute 10 points off the bench to help San Antonio take the lead early in the second quarter.
While the Clippers would rally to take another big lead, the Spurs again responded to set the tone of a back-and-forth contest. Playing a strategical chess match, Popovich would decide to intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan to successfully break the Clippers' rhythm. Jordan would make two of six free throws until Clippers coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers decided to intentionally foul Tony Parker to get Jordan off the court. For the remainder of the half, the Clippers' best defensive player would watch from the bench.
"You've got to feel that it is in the right situation," Popovich said before Game Five, when asked about when he goes to the strategy to intentionally foul. "It depends how well your team is doing and how well their team is doing."
When Jordan sat down with about four minutes remaining in the first half, the Spurs led by two points. About a minute later, the Clippers leveled the score. At the intermission, the Clippers led by one point, so the effectiveness of intentionally fouling Jordan did not necessarily pay off as Popovich had hoped.
In the third quarter, the Clippers and Spurs would continue to seesaw back and forth until Popovich again went to the intentional foul on Jordan. The pace of the game slowed to a crawl, and the crowd grew incredibly tired of the tactic. Over the course of 12 minutes in the third quarter, the Spurs and Clippers combined to shoot 35 free throws in a foul fest. Jordan would make five of the 10 foul shots he attempted during the grueling stretch.
After all the antics and strategies, the Clippers and Spurs entered the final quarter of pivotal Game Five level at 82-82. In the fourth quarter, neither team would lead by more than three points for the first seven minutes of the quarter. With five minutes to play, the visitors would make a run and jump out to a seven-point edge, which would hold until Paul made a lay-up with 2:07 to play.
The Spurs' spurt had been fueled by Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan, and the two Spurs would be integral down the stretch. Duncan, in particular, would have a monster block at the one minute mark to deny Griffin a basket that would have tied the game. The Clippers' forward would finish the game by missing eight of his final nine shots and looking visibly exhausted. He also missed two free throws with 39.9 seconds to play, and those misses definitely hurt the Clippers' cause. For the night, Griffin finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and four steals in over 41 minutes on the court.
The game would eventually come down to Jordan tipping in Griffin's shot with 4.9 seconds to play. Had the center not touched the ball, the Clippers would have taken a one-point lead. Instead, the official called offensive goal-tending. After a few free throws, the Spurs walked away victorious.
Game Six will be in San Antonio on Thursday night.