SAN ANTONIO -- It was a good thing, Chris Paul said, that the Los Angeles Clippers played poorly in Game 1. Because if they'd had their tip-top-of-their-game butts handed to them, well, that's when a loss becomes an identity crisis.
"It would be tough if it was like, 'Man, we did everything right and we did everything we wanted to do and we couldn't beat them,'" Paul said.
The Clippers find themselves down 0-1 to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the NBA Western Conference playoffs -- Game 2 is at 8:30 p.m. central Thursday in San Antonio -- but there is some psychological convenience to be found in the reasons why.
They are myriad.
Some of them are not likely to persist. Paul's shooting, for example, will not tread water at 23 percent for an entire playoff series. He said he got the shots he wanted Tuesday, and if a couple more of them had dropped, who knows.
"That was the most frustrating part, getting where I wanted to and not seeing them go down," he said. "You can't do that in the playoffs."
The Clippers also groaned about their 15 turnovers (though that was three fewer than San Antonio had). Paul had five of his own, and that was as uncharacteristic as his shooting. So although the score got away from the Clippers -- it ended up 108-92 -- those two factors arm the Clippers with a sturdy psychological crutch -- dismissal.
As in, that shouldn't have happened once and surely it won't happen again.
But there were other issues not so easily discarded. Such as guarding the Spurs. It would be one thing if it were just Tim Duncan working over DeAndre Jordan (which it was). You can scheme the ball out of a power forward's hands and on a good night Jordan might even be able to guard him.
The trouble was that it seemed whenever Duncan or Boris Diaw caught the ball, somebody ended up scoring, sometimes a second or third pass away. The Spurs feeding Duncan is like feeding an equation to a computer; it always, and immediately, spits out the right answer.
The Spurs made 13 of 25 3-pointers Tuesday, which is an unusually high percentage, but not a lucky one. These were professional basketball players making open shots -- they tend to do that. There was a stretch that lasted a quarter, maybe more, in which it seemed like San Antonio didn't attempt a challenged shot.
This could be a problem with no easy solution.
"We've obviously got to do a better job with a sense of urgency getting out to shooters, do a better job with pick-and-roll coverages," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Easier said than done. The challenge in defending the Spurs is that the Spurs' offense is indifferent. As water seeks the lowest point, San Antonio's offense seeks the most open man. The hard part, Paul said, is "trying to take so many different things away."
"You let Timmy get a couple easy layups," he said, "and all the guys start making shots around the perimeter."
So that will be difficult to stop. It is basically why the Spurs are 50-16, and the Clippers know that. But they know they can play better, too, most of all Paul.
There was a telling comparison Tuesday. It was between Paul and Tony Parker, two of the NBA's best point guards. Both had rotten games. They combined to go 4-for-22 with nine turnovers. But there was a contrast, too. For Parker, it hardly mattered, and for Paul it meant everything.
The key in Game 2?
"Play better," Paul said. "It's that simple. That's a good team over there, and we can't make mistakes."