I was at Thursday night's game, so you'd think I'd have a lot of firsthand observations about what went down at the Oracle Arena. But you'd be wrong. What I do have is my usual after-game commentary on what I saw as I watched the recording thanks to magic of my Digital Video Recorder. Here are my five main thoughts on the Spurs' shorthanded win.
1. In retrospect, Tiago Splitter played better than I thought
Oh man. Splitter is definitely someone whose game is better appreciated on television, with the benefit of replays and rewinding, than watching live. where all you wanna do is swear at him the whole time. J.R. Wilco can attest to the fact that I spent the better part of the evening cussing Splitter out on text messages for being so soft, so uncoordinated and so physically and mentally weak. Having watched the game again on television though, I have to give it up to Splitter for playing his typically coordinated positional defense down low, for extending out to the three-point line on switches against Stephen Curry a few times -- and faring well there -- and for blowing up a lot of Warriors sets with his smarts and mobility. David Lee definitely got the better of him a couple of times and I wasn't happy with a few offensive rebounds Splitter conceded, but at least he stepped up late in the game. The offensive finishing though (1-7 from the field) left a lot to be desired.
2. Boris Diaw saved the game
As we've seen in previous fake forfeit games against Utah and Miami, the Spurs usually start well and are either leading or competitive throughout the whole game but then fade in that final quarter, a combination of fatigue from the night before -- it's not just the fact that it's a SEGABABA, but having to play far more minutes than they're accustomed to in the SEGABABA -- and the team running out of ideas and tricks once the opponents realize, "Oh crap, we're gonna lose to these guys without their best players, at home, if we don't turn it up here."
Though Lee was having his way with Diaw (or anyone else the Spurs put on him), Boris stabilized the Spurs down the stretch and Pop wisely ran the offensive through him when it mattered most. Bobo scored on a couple of post-ups versus Lee, got to the free throw line against him another time and was involved in the final two buckets of the night, first on a give-and-go with Splitter and then when he came up with a big offensive board after Marco Belinelli's miss on the Spurs last possession. Though Diaw missed the tricky reverse layup, there was no Warrior left to contest Splitter's tip. Diaw led the club with six assists and had a huge chase-down block on Curry after it looked like Belinelli gave the game away with a late turnover.
3. Kawhi Leonard is Klay Thompson's Freddy Krueger
It's an apt comparison, I suppose, given that they have similarly shaped hands ... but seriously, at this point Thompson must be seeing Leonard in his nightmares. He just cannot score against him. 13 points on 6-of-18 shooting and five turnovers in 41 minutes is as brutal as it gets for someone of Thompson's stature. Thompson was once again stripped by Leonard one-on-one and couldn't prevent a layup on the other end. Don't forget, Thompson shot 5-of-16 against the Spurs (with three turnovers) in the first meeting this season and overall he's made 29-of-87 (.33) shots since Game 3 of their second-round series when Pop made the decision to switch Leonard onto him full-time. I'd love to see a Spurs fan make a sign in the next game reading, "Hey Klay: One, Two He's Coming For You..." with Leonard wearing Freddy's hat and the glove and the whole bit.
4. Pop is Trying To Kill Me
I was going insane in my nosebleed seats watching the Spurs quickly blow a hard-earned eight-point lead through three quarters. He waited an agonizing 3:29 in the fourth quarter before reinserting Patty Mills into the game, while the Spurs were crumbling, throwing the ball all over the place and struggling to even get shots up against the Warriors' full court pressure. In fact, it wasn't until eight minutes were left before he put both Mills and Leonard into the game and by then the game was tied. I thought he stuck with Danny Green too long as well, when it was apparent that he had gone cold. Only in the final four minutes did we see Leonard, Mills, Diaw and Belinelli all on the floor together. I also couldn't understand why they never trapped Curry. The Warriors kept running the same simple high screen for him every time and too often the big didn't hedge over to him and there was no third man high to force a pass. It made the game very easy for Curry. Either he had an open three after the screen or easy access to drive to the cup and force the bigs to converge on him.
5. The whistles were favorable
I was surprised and confused watching the game live and those feelings didn't subside any watching it again on television. The calls really went the Spurs way, especially down the stretch. For whatever reason it sure appeared as though they were allowed to play more physically than the Warriors were. They got to the bonus in that fourth quarter very quickly, with three ticky-tack fouls and I never saw or heard an explanation for why that play where Kent Bazemore acted like Splitter had clotheslined him got called a foul on the Warriors. There were three jumpshot fouls called on the Warriors, that charge Mills drew against Curry and last of all, that play at the end where Splitter might have gotten away with a loose ball foul on Bogut to tip the rebound towards Diaw. Maybe the refs felt sorry for the Spurs for being undermanned and wanted to even things up? Whatever the case may be, I was grateful for their assistance, so let's get it on the record that I don't always think the refs are against the Spurs.
I've got five more thoughts from the Warriors end of things, but I'll save those for the next post...