We have seen this before. In 2008 San Antonio Spurs played game 1 at home against #6 seed Phoenix Suns. 3-pointers by The Zombie and Big Fun saved the game twice, before final two-point win in the 2nd OT. Certain Argentinian player scored last basket of the game to snatch the victory from the Suns team featuring an unlikely alliance of Steve Nash with Big Cactus. The Suns were clearly demoralized, and never threatened in the series again, losing in 5.
Three years later, in 2011, the Spurs found themselves with their backs against the wall losing at home to #8 seeded Memphis. Improbable sequence of plays, cold-blooded OT-forcing 3-pointer by Gary Neal and 33 points by Manu Ginobili saved the day and extended the series to the game 6 at Memphis.
After two more dramatic and successful seasons, heavily-favored Spurs found themselves in jeopardy once again, losing be as much as 16 points with 4 minutes left in regulation. In took an improbable comeback, two overtime periods and two clutch 3-pointers, this time by Danny "Big" Green and Bald Argentinian Mamba, for the Spurs to finally prevail in another 2-point victory over pesky #6 seeded opponent. Late heroics of this remarkable game are analyzed in detail by capable PtR writers. My summary of it is very simple: We Just Dodged Another Bullet.
The series is however far from over. Here is what I have seen so far and what I'll be watching for tomorrow.
After an impressive first-round win against the hated rival the PtR was beamed with confidence. Though the Dubs got an impressive win after #3 seeded Denver, they have been seen as overwhelming underdogs against superior Spurs defense. Last time I remember the PtR being so overconfident was in 2010 after similarly impressive 1st round win against another hated rival. Then Goran Dragic happened ... I know, most people think that there is no connection between whatever we do at PtR and what happens on the court. I believe though that the mood of the devoted fans is usually in sync with the state of the team.
Speaking about the defense, it was totally lacking for 44 minutes yesterday. There is something baffling about Spurs' inability to defend the shooters. I mean, Pop has been in the League forever, and he is widely considered to be the best coach in business. You would think that he knows some trick, move, weapon, something to cool down a hot hand. Instead, every time someone gets hot against the Spurs we just wait and pray that he'll start missing eventually. That was the story in 2010 when Goran Dragic all of a sudden couldn't miss. It was more of the same three years later when Curry scored 22 points in a quarter. Yes, 22 points in a quarter. For the night, he scored 44 points, and only two of them were from the free throw line. Curry took 35 shots, and only once he was fouled while shooting, which is actually happened in overtime, when we started, for a change, to play defense and when we won the game. I just cannot understand it. I know that both conventional wisdom and Pop's defensive philosophy clearly state that you never foul a jump shooter, but the problem is that Curry's shooting, when he is hot, defies conventional wisdom. I would rather watched him getting 10 points from the free throw line than watching him making one improbable 3-pointer after another. If somebody slapped him on the wrist couple of times, may be he would start to hesitate a little bit before shooting. May be his shot would become a little more tentative. May be he would get a bit scared that he'd be hit again. Instead, he was scoring his 22 points without anybody even breathing at him. Never since Bowen's time we had a player who can get under the skin of a shooter and throw him off his game. Bowen gave a shooter no space and no time, he would relentlessly shadow the guy. We thought KLeo and CuJo would take turns defending Curry, we thought Parker was a bad match up for him. In fact, for 44 minutes and 44 points Curry had a free rein, not even bothered by defenders, who played way too far off him. If this will continue, we'll be in trouble for the whole series.
After embarrassing and beating into submission one of the best front courts in the NBA, our bigs were supposed to dominate the series against Golden State. Instead, we were thoroughly outplayed in the paint. Duncan was a shell of himself because of the flu, and while contributing on the offensive end, he was nowhere close to being a defensive anchor we used to see. It's impossible to blame Tim for getting sick, but our dependence on his defense was totally exposed. The question is whether two days would be enough for the GOAT to recover. Diaw played very well in last minutes after doing absolutely nothing for the most of the game. May be when Tiago gets back we'll fare a bit better, but we really really need a healthy Tim Duncan. On the other side of the court, Tony was repeatedly blocked during his penetration, which predictably cooled him down. We didn't get any fast breaks, and no scoring under the basket. As a result, 3-pointers and free throws became our major offensive weapons.
The only reason why we were able at the end to climb back into the game was our 50% 3-point shooting. Green, Diaw, KLeo and Bonner combined for 9-12 (75%) from 3-point territory. Needless to say, we can hardly expect being so lucky every night.
5. Free throws.
We also scored 10 more points from the free throw line, and probably even more important, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green both fouled out, while Barnes had 5 fouls. This forced Marc Jackson to play RJ, who made great contribution in limutes to the Spurs victory. Again, we caught a lucky break here.
Overall, we were outplayed in almost any important component of the Game 1, and we were extremely lucky to escape with the victory. In sharp contrast to previous series, we played with no energy for the most of the night. A hero of 1st round Joseph practically disappeared and Baynes stayed glued to the bench even though Duncan was not fit to play. If not for best playoff game by Danny Green and a lot of luck, we would had already lost our home court advantage. Hopefully, we'll learn our lessons and play much better in Game 2, turning the series around. Even though they collapsed down the stretch, the Dubs were the better team in Game 1 and I expect them to make things difficult for us again tomorrow.
What is your prediction? Will we be able to play much better or will we need to rely on our luck again in this series?