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Spurs dominate tanking Warriors 120-99, climb to first in the West

Is that really their starting lineup? Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE
Is that really their starting lineup? Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

Well, that went exactly as it was supposed to go. The Spurs jumped out to a double digit lead early and kept an undermanned Warriors team at bay for most of the game. The good guys didn't succumb to overconfidence by facing a team that started 4 rookies and Dorell Wright and did their job early, allowing Gregg Popovich to rest the Big Three the entire second half.

The Warriors are making it pretty clear that they are tanking to get their pick back from Utah by shutting down both of their best players, David Lee and Stephen Curry, for the rest of the season after trading Monta Ellis for an injured Andrew Bogut. Former Spur Richard Jefferson is also being held out, which leaves Golden State with an assortment of journeymen, unheralded rookies and D-Leaguers to toil away for the last half-dozen games. An elite team, such as our Spurs, should not struggle against such a squad and they didn't. After the jump some meaningless observations of a pretty insignificant game.

The Warriors started Charles Jenkins, Klay Thompson, Dorell Wright, Jeremy Tyler and Mickell Gladness. Other than Thompson and maybe Wright, none of those guys are supposed to see rotation minutes next season. It's not rare to see teams trying to tank this late in the season (hello there Sacramento Kings) but few teams are fielding a lineup as untalented and not-yet-ready as the Warriors. You can't blame Mark Jackson for trying to get his young'uns some experience out of this lost season, but even the collection of who's who of journeymen that comprise their bench (Mikki Moore still is in the NBA, you guys) would be better. Whenever I see teams doing what the Warriors are doing and have to hear announcers desperately trying to find topics to discuss instead of narrating the game, I pray to the FSM the Spurs don't have to go through a long rebuilding process. Not everything is bad in Golden State, though. Adding a healthy Bogut to their Curry-Lee-Thompson core should turn them into a playoff contender as soon as next season if they manage to build a bench.

But enough about the Warriors. How did the Spurs do? Like I said, everything went like it was supposed to. The pick and roll was working, the 3s were falling and the defense, while inconsistent, managed to entice the inexperienced Warriors into bad shots. The 24-point (at the time) maximum lead the Spurs got in the second quarter seemed incredibly appropriate and it was clear everyone on the court just wanted the affair to end, even before halftime. Pop started Neal, Bonner and Splitter in place of Parker, Blair and Duncan and that unit, with appearances from Jackson, DeJuan, Diaw and even Anderson and Mills continued to build and then manage the lead. Splitter and Neal were the most aggressive and effective of the bunch, shooting well from the field and finishing in double figures. All in all, the Spurs played 13 players and not one of them played poorly enough to be singled out (no, not even James Anderson).

I could give you a detailed quarter by quarter analysis or a more in-depth breakdown, if only to justify staying up late watching this game, but I don't hate you enough for that. Instead...

Let's take a minute to talk about...defense.

To be a great defender at the NBA level, a real difference maker, you need elite physical tools. All of the great ones--Pippen, Russell, Robinson, along with the new ones like Iguodala, Garnett or Duncan are freaks of nature. Being long, strong and athletic is not enough, though. Elite defenders also understand the game and have fantastic fundamentals. Guys like Jeremy Tyler or Milwaukee's Larry Sanders have more defensive potential that guys like DeJuan Blair or Matt Bonner because, physically, they are on another level. Why, then, the Spurs power forwards contribute to a good defensive team that is going to the playoffs and Tyler and Sanders can't get off the bench for their mediocre-to-bad teams? Fundamentals and understanding of the game. Bonner knows when to go for the charge when playing help D and when to avoid contact and just raise his arms; don't throw a lazy entry pass at Blair's man because he's getting a steal.

The same goes for team defense. The Spurs probably don't have the players to be a dominant defensive squad like they were in the past, but the system knowledge and high BBIQ of the players make it very possible to play above average defense, even without that perimeter stopper or athletic shot-blocker we all crave.

Random observations

  • There's not a lot to take away from this game from the Spurs perspective, but at least the Big Three got some rest. As I mentioned, Ginobili, Duncan and Parker didn't return after the first half and they all played less than 15 minutes. We might not see a white flag game tomorrow!
  • If I was to nitpick, I would mention a couple of offensive boards the Spurs gave up in the first quarter, when the score was close. But in a game like this, all is forgiven. That can't happen against the Lakers, though.
  • Klay Thompson seems like the real deal. He can catch-and-shoot, create his own shot and create for others in a pinch. The Warriors don't figure to be a contender until they improve their wing rotation (sorry RJ), but drafting Thompson was a step in the right direction.
  • Speaking of which, after years of drafting horribly in the lottery (hi there, Patrick O'Bryant) the Warriors might be turning it around. Curry and Thompson could be their back-court for years to come and they got them with the 7th and 11th pick respectively. Not too shabby. Tyler has the potential to turn into a poor man's Derrick Favors but it's up to him to be coachable and hard-working enough to get there.

Three Stars

3 - Anyone who stayed up and watched the whole game.

I'm sure you were tempted to turn in early after that first half. Good for you (us) to keep watching. The ones who went to sleep missed out on that exhilarating moment when the Warriors cut the lead to 16 with 6 minutes to go. Exciting stuff.

2 - The Big Three.

In a combined 40 minutes, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker contributed 33 points, 7 boards and 9 assists. They did their work early and earned their rest. Hopefully they'll be ready to go tomorrow.

1 - Role players.

The rest of the starting lineup played well and helped build the lead. The subs kept the pace to the point where the win was never really in doubt. I don't think depth is that great of an asset in the playoffs, but in games like these, having actual basketball players in your bench instead of scrubs allows a coach to rest his stars for the important games.

Box-score and highlights

For the opponent's perspective and a lot of talk on tanking, visit Golden State of Mind

Up next, the Lakers tomorrow. Pop might actually play the Big Three and I'm sure the guys want revenge.