In order to win, I thought the Spurs needed to throw the first punch. I thought they had to establish that there was indeed a home court advantage in San Antonio, and take the early lead. The Warriors are a young team and confidence is by nature, fickle. Basically, I thought the worst thing the Spurs could do was give the Warriors the opportunity to capture the momentum and build confidence from the outset. Unfortunately, it's exactly what took place Wednesday night at the AT&T Center.
Stephen Curry connected on his first two shot attempts, both 3-pointers, and each was met with audible groans from the San Antonio crowd. It hurt the fans, and it shook the Spurs. Could this be happening again?
The Spurs actually began the game playing fairly well on both ends, but the Warriors came out hitting those crazy shots that make you shake your head. After the first quarter, the Spurs trailed by five, but it was a big five points. The Warriors were oozing confidence as they walked to their bench. Though their lead wasn't intimidating, the fact that the game began in an eerily similar way to Game 1 caused anxiety. They shot 44% from the field and 50% from distance as the Spurs fell well short shooting 34.8% from the field and missing all of their 3-pointers.
The Warriors were still hot, and the Spurs were once again not. It was like they picked up at the 4 minute mark of the fourth quarter and erased the comeback. Fade-away threes, heat checks, good bounces and 50/50 calls were all in the Warriors' favor. The Spurs were struggling to hang on and everyone felt it.
In the second quarter the Spurs lost control, but it wasn't Stephen Curry's doing this time. It was his backcourt partner that took the spotlight and buried the Spurs. Klay Thompson did his best impersonation of Steph's Game 1 third quarter, and it had the same affect on the Spurs' offense. When a guy gets hot like that, it affects both ends of the floor. Thompson scored 17 points in the quarter on 6 of 8 shooting, 5 of which were 3-pointers. In addition, he ran Tony Parker ragged.
After the game, Mark Jackson put Thompson's half into words. "I told Klay at half time that that is in the discussion for one of the greatest halves ever. Not only what he did offensively, but what he did defensively. Offensively, I said I have the greatest shooting backcourt to ever play the game. Call my bluff." His post-game cockiness was as in-your-face as the Warriors' in-game confidence.
As Klay's 3-pointers rained down on one end, the Spurs' offense sputtered on the other as they attempted to keep pace. The Spurs began pressing. Players tried to take it upon themselves to keep it close, which just isn't one of the things the Spurs do well. They play their best basketball as a team. Thompson's hot shooting took the Spurs out of team ball as they strained to stay in the game.
At halftime, the Spurs found themselves down 19. It was an absolute first half beat-down. Not only did the Warriors out-shoot the Spurs from the field, from distance and at the free throw line, they also out-rebounded the Spurs, out-assisted the Spurs, had fewer turnovers and even fouled more often. If we're going to go down, at least give me the option of blaming the officials!
And so, the third quarter began. Unlike what took place in Game 1, tonight the Spurs did not wait till the last four minutes of the game to begin competing. They won the third quarter 29-21 to cut the Warriors' lead to 11. Twice, the Spurs were within seven, but each time the Warriors responded. It seemed as if the Spurs had fully stolen Golden States' momentum until Klay Thompson ended the quarter with a heartbreaking, buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
So, what changed? How did the Spurs stop the bleeding? Popovich went with a small ball lineup for the entire quarter. If you recall, in Game 1 the Spurs mounted their comeback with Diaw at center surrounded by four guards. In Game 2, the Spurs went small in the second half. It allowed the Spurs to become more mobile and they played with more energy than the traditional lineups that Pop used in the first half. The lanes that the Warriors exploited at will in the first half disappeared. The Spurs seemed to have a legitimate chance to close the gap entering the final period.
Although the Spurs made many runs at the Warriors' lead, Golden State never relinquished it. Each time the Spurs seemed like they were about to get over the hump, the Warriors answered. The Spurs cut the lead to six two separate times, but were unable to get any closer. The Warriors went on to win the game, 100-91, to tie the series at one game apiece.
Now, two things. First, the easy sale and second, the one you'll probably disagree with. First, the Spurs aren't going to beat anyone shooting 39%, and it's not like the Warriors' defense is elite. Yes, they try hard and Bogut underneath helps, but Steph and Jack can't play defense and they are collectively on the court most of the time. The Spurs are getting great looks at the basket, in the paint and from beyond the arc, they are just missing.
If the Spurs shot better than 45% in Game 2, they probably would have won the game. So, that's hopefully agreeable.
The Spurs shot 48% from the field and 38% from distance during the regular season. If they can just hit their averages, the Spurs should be able to steal one in California.
After the game, Gregg Popovich said, "I thought it was polite of [Klay and Steph] to take turns and not both be on fire the same night. Maybe the next iteration is that neither one of them will be hot in Game 3. Klay was unbelievable. A lot of those shots were tough shots. Some of them were wide open because of defensive mistakes, but others were difficult shots, either contested or off-balance," Popovich said during his post-game remarks.
After Curry made those first two 3-pointers, and took an off-balance heat check, I tweeted that I thought the Spurs should give him that third heat check all night long. The feedback I received basically claimed that he's immortal. That heat checks are good shots for him. I disagree.
Off-balance, contested shots aren't good shots for Stephen Curry and they were not good shots for Klay Thompson. In Game 1, Steph made poor shots. In Game 2, Klay made poor shots. After watching Popovich speak about the "unbelievable" "tough" "difficult" "contested" "off-balance" shots that Klay made, I feel this point is clear.
Those guys should not be making a high percentage of those shots. If they continue to do so, I think the Spurs have to shake the Warriors' hands and then shake their heads. Post-game, Tim Duncan said, "On a regular basis, those are shots that we want people to take. Hopefully, they miss some of them but they didn't tonight."
Now, I know some of you will point to the Denver series and claim they made the same shots against them. Well, I watched that series, and it's not true. The Nuggets were an abomination defensively. Bonner would have done great in that series and never would have had to put the ball on the floor. Yes, Steph hit some silly shots, but they weren't 85% silly like they were against the Spurs. In tonight's game, Steph made 7 of his 20 shots, which is about right given their degree of difficulty.
To me, it seems that the Spurs are content to stay the course defensively. I mean, what other option do they have? If they double the hot shooter to force him to pass the ball, they're essentially trading a contested shot for an open one. You double Lebron because he gets easy shots. For a decade, Tim was doubled because he got easy shots. You don't double JR Smith. Even if he's making his bad shots, you do not double him. And for the exact same reason, Pop isn't going to double someone that is taking unbelievable, tough, difficult, contested, off-balance shots; obviously, I agree with him.
And so, the series moves to California. Can we at least agree on these hypotheticals before you take to the comment section below? If Curry doesn't have that Game 1 third quarter, the Spurs probably win comfortably. And if Klay didn't have that crazy second quarter tonight, the Spurs would have won. If we can agree on that, then the Warriors are counting on players to have games that are exceptional outliers in order to win this series. If it happens, it happens. But it shouldn't, and I for one, do not think it will.
"It's on us to control the tempo. It's on us to control it defensively. It's on us to make a better effort and make a lot fewer mistakes and in that, we can take the crowd out of it." Tim Duncan said those words and clearly he thinks "it's on us." The Spurs still control their own destiny. Crazy shots aside, if the Spurs play like they have for most of the season, they'll be fine. And if the Warriors do not make a high percentage of unbelievable, tough. difficult, contested, off-balance shots, that'd be nice, too.
Please check SBNation's Golden State of Mind for the Warriors' perspective.
Also, follow me on twitter, where I tweet from home games. Here's last night's, short-form summary of my recap.
Or if our idiots could make a shot. RT @jdavis2093: Maybe if these idiots wouldn't hit everything they look at, Spurs could be leading.— Fred (@DartFred) May 9, 2013