The San Antonio Spurs entered their NBA playoff series with the Los Angeles Clippers as the favorites to reach the Western Conference semifinals, but they find themselves in a hole after Game 1. L.A. topped the defending champions, 107-92, in their first-round series opener on Sunday night.
Los Angeles didn’t have much trouble with San Antonio, trailing for a total of just 26 seconds. After failing to win Game 1 for the first time in 12 postseason series, the Spurs are no longer favored to reach the next round.
"They're still the defending champs, and they're going to be the defending champs every night," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said on Sunday night. "We have a lot of confidence in our team, but you just have to stay humble and respect who you're playing."
Despite being the No.6 seed and not having home-court advantage in the first round, the Spurs started the playoffs as the second favorite in the West to win the title. While they haven’t given up their spot as the top challenger to the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio and Los Angeles have been given an equal chance to advance. Both teams have -110 betting odds to win the series at sportsbook.ag. The Spurs’ championship odds are third overall at +800, while the Clippers are right behind them at +1000.
Gregg Popovich had his first full season as San Antonio’s head coach in 1997-1998. Since then, the Spurs have never missed the playoffs, winning five titles in six appearances in the NBA Finals. But more often than not, Popovich’s teams haven’t been able to advance when losing Game 1, losing eight of 14 such postseason series.
In three of San Antonio’s title runs, they were unable to win Game 1 of a playoff series. In 2003, the team was defeated at home by the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks in the conference quarterfinals and finals, respectively. Two years later the Spurs lost their first playoff game, only to win the title two months later. In 2007, San Antonio was beaten in Game 1 of their first round series, only to win 16 of their next 19 playoff games.
San Antonio has had their struggles this year, which is why they aren’t seeded higher, despite their strong finish. Tony Parker underperformed when the team was playing their worst in the regular season, and he had a poor outing on Sunday. Rolling his ankle and hurting his thigh in the contest, the point guard finished with 10 points on 11 shot attempts, adding just two rebounds and one assist.
"To start [the game] with twisting my ankle, I was like, 'Come on,'" Parker said after the game. "I was like, couldn't believe it; had to retape. But hey, it's like that."
Popovich said that Parker is fine and will play in Game 2 on Wednesday, but the Spurs could be in trouble if the point guard isn’t at full strength. San Antonio has gone 7-7 this season in games that Parker hasn’t played.
The Spurs struggled to make open shots in Game 1, shooting less than 37 percent from the field. They allowed L.A. to hit 51.3 percent of their shots and make 10 of 18 three-point attempts.
Before the Spurs were defeated in the regular season finale, they suffered just four losses in a 25-game span. Following each loss, San Antonio won their next game by double-digits.
Two days away from Game 2, the Clippers are 1.5-point favorites in Las Vegas.