Tony and the Spurs are back. After two games exhibiting uncharacteristically stagnant offense and ambivalent defense, San Antonio refocused to grab the 2-1 lead on the road. The Spurs played a fantastic game of basketball, and finally looked like the better team for the first time in the series. No heroics required, just plain, systematic offense and stifling perimeter D.
The Spurs and Warriors began the game battling for early buckets, as Tony Parker heated up. After about 6 minutes neck and neck, the Warriors started to create some separation, taking a quick 5 point lead on a Stephen Curry jumper. The refrain of the series rang loudly in our heads, "Uh oh, here we go again." But then the Spurs fought back on the backs of Parker, Duncan and a fresh Boris Diaw. After sitting most of Game 2, likely because he was so sore from his defensive effort in Game 1, Diaw played excellently. In the first half, he worked the post against the smaller Draymond Green, and nailed a beautiful triple on a back-and-forth from Manu Ginobili. Parker added 13 points in the first quarter, and the Spurs closed out the period on a 12-2 run to lead by nine, 32-23.
In a surprise move, the Mark Jackson put David Lee on the floor to start the second quarter. Most had assumed Lee would be out for at least the series, if not the entire playoffs, but he came back and made his presence known. Lee scored 5 points in his first two minutes, showing off his midrange game and earning a solid and-1 which really fired up the crowd (to the tune of 107 dBs, thanks to ESPN’s hokey noise meter). The crowd would ultimately fall still, however, asTony Parker continued his torrid domination of Klay Thompson and the Warriors defense, several times pulling Thompson from his shoes en route to a number of his classic left fading 18 footers. Tony finished with an astounding 25 points in the first half, including this unbelievable and-1:
The Warriors shooting appears to have cooled off following hot nights in both of the first two games, due in very large part to a high level of intensity from the Spurs defense, including Danny Green’s noteworthy harassment of Stephen Curry, who did not score in the second quarter. I’m not sure when the last time Curry didn’t score in a quarter was, but if the last two games are any indication, he may have been in the womb. Duncan, Diaw, and Leonard all made solid defensive contributions in the first half, and the Spurs ended it up 9, maintaining their first quarter lead even after Spur-killer extraordinaire Jarrett Jack cut the lead to 3.
The blood was in the water, and the Spurs and their fans could certainly smell it. For the first time, San Antonio seemed to be playing their style of ball, and the results had paid off in the first half. The Warriors, however, would not submit, and they rattled off an early 17-8 run to tie the game at 65. Klay Thompson regained the rhythm he had found in Game 2, hitting some key jumpers early in the run. In what would become the motif of the night, however, the Spurs rallied back. Riding Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs extended the lead to 10 to win the quarter by one and head into the fourth up 79-69.
The fourth played out like each of the preceding quarters. Refusing to succumb, the Warriors dispensed a 9-0 run to start the quarter, and found themselves trailing by just one only two minutes in. Out of the timeout, Pop’s play call netted Danny Green’s first points of the night in a timely triple. Tony followed with an uncharacteristic three of his own (his second of the night), and again the Spurs stretched the lead to 11 with just over 5 minutes to play. The Spurs stayed aggressive while using clock, and the Warriors never had quite enough to close the gap again, getting as close as 5, but ultimately falling short. The Spurs, through systematic offense and resolute defense characteristic of their excellent regular season, earned the victory, 102-92.
Thoughts and Observations
- The Spurs brought the intensity tonight. After sorely lacking energy in Games 1 and 2, San Antonio played with fire in their britches. Before the game started I was optimistic because, even in the loss on Wednesday night, Pop affirmed to his team during a timeout that all they required was intensity and focus. Their play during the second half last night, and the whole game tonight, acquired an air of determination we had not seen yet in the playoffs, even in Game 1. Yes, that's right. Game 1 was awesome, but there was a whole lot more luck than intensity involved in the victory.
- Pop was absolutely brilliant calling timeouts. He never let the Warriors get rolling, and I don't think the "noise meter" ever registered above 110 (weaksauce). Any time the Spurs slipped, Pop called time, drew up a play, and our guys regained the lead. Just downright phenomenal coaching from Mr. Gregg Popovich tonight.
- A part of that great coaching was his decision to give Parker sufficient rest. I imagine the pregame pep talk went something like this. Pop: "Tony, go out there and get us up early, and I'll give you some time on the bench. I know how much you and Tracy like each other, and I want you to get some quality time getting to know your new teammate. Maybe you can give him some advice on how to win a playoff series of his own." Regardless of how it played out, Tony was able to stay relatively fresh throughout the game, despite receiving a nasty kick to his shin/calf which was being treated during the game.
- Tony really had that left fading jumper going in the first half. His 25 first half points were super efficient, as he shot 11-14.
- In my series preview, I was certain that the Spurs would win every game in which they won the assist battle. My theory is still holding up. They out-dished the Warriors by a slim margin, 21-20.
- Cory Joseph has been pretty horrific guarding Stephen Curry. However, he has been doing a good job on Jarrett Jack. A good time to rest Parker is when Jack comes in. CoJo can handle him.
- This game was won by finishing quarters. The Warriors started each quarter hot, and the Spurs finished each quarter with a run to regain a solid margin. It's all about how you finish.
- Manu was very poor in the first half, missing all three of his shots. The second half was much better, particularly the third quarter, where he shot 3 of 4 and his 8 points were key in sparking the Spurs' run to end the period. He had an awful night from three, though, shooting 1-8.
- Kawhi Leonard doesn't just have a quiet demeanor. He has a quiet game. I swear he only makes like 2 buckets a game, but tonight he had 15 points, 9 rebounds, a steal, and a team leading +17. The term for most players like this would be "garbage-man." Kawhi isn't a garbage man. He's more like a sanitation specialist.
- That being said, he needs to find his free throw form. An 83% FT shooter during the regular season, Kawhi has made only 38% of his FTs over the last two games (5 of 13). I think he has gotten in his own head a bit. Fortunately, Kawhi seems like the kind of player who can get out of his own head really easily, even if it does resemble a corn maze.
- Danny Green was pretty nonexistent tonight on offense, but he has been exceptional guarding Stephen Curry. His length and quick footwork, coupled wit his ability to fight over screens, have allowed him to hassle Curry in the last two games.
- Curry was off tonight. He shot 5-17 from the field and 3-9 from deep. He never seemed to display the swagger he had in San Antonio. Maybe he is starting to fatigue, or maybe he knows that the Spurs really are the better team in this series, despite all of Mark Jackson's preachin'.