The hot shooting hands of the Golden State Warriors might have just one thing between themselves and the ultimate NBA glory. Well, two things actually...two very large things in fact...those being, the two enormous paws owned by Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. On the surface, the Spurs beat the Warriors 107-92. But, I told my dad after tonight's Easter ham-like carving of the Warriors that the Spurs victory either "means everything or nothing at all."
The Warriors have run wild on the entire NBA this season. Some have gestured towards their point differential and sustained domination as a foregone conclusion that they would be representing the Western Conference in the Finals. There isn't a team in the NBA who hasn't felt their fury at least once. The Spurs were even bludgeoned by their onslaught during the darkest portion of the season on the Rodeo Road Trip.
The Spurs have made the Warriors feel it worse though, now beating the Warriors in San Antonio to go along with their November victory at Oracle. This hereby concludes the Battle for the Raiders and since the Spurs won the season series 2-1, the Raiders...must stay in California!
Anyhoo, on Saturday, the Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks, so a lot of folks questioned whether or not Steve Kerr would play his full cast against San Antonio. On one hand, the Warriors have already clinched home court throughout the playoffs, so why give another Western Conference contender any edge over you? But then, if you rest your guys too early do you hurt your momentum going into the postseason? It was a lose-lose for Kerr going into this game.
Shaun Livingston was suspended for punching Dirk Nowitzki in the forbidden region so it was only fitting that Gregg Popovich start the league’s spokesperson in anti-crotch shots, Matt Bonner. The Warriors never had a chance, as the Spurs are now a perfect 10-0 this season when the Red Rocket starts. But really, the Warriors never had a chance. The Spurs set the tone immediately as Kawhi Leonard's steals and perimeter prowess took the Warriors off their usual game.
Danny Green and Leonard outdid the Splash Brothers tremendously by flying all over the court for steals, transition threes and even connecting for a transition lob that sent the AT&T Center into a Finals like raucous. Alley oops, so ill performed by the Silver and Black are received with exuberance when seen by a home crowd. It's a rare museum exhibit that rarely makes its way to San Antonio, but when it does, it has a line out the door. Green and Leonard went on to outscore Thompson and Curry 44-30, with Klay Thomspon barely making his presence felt, shooting 3-11 and missing all of his threes.
Then there was number 21. As constant as an Easter Resurrection, he put his quiet stamp on the game. Tim Duncan shot 6-7, added 19 points and pulled the Spurs out of their only true lull when it looked like Curry could shoot the Dubs back into the game. Duncan just wouldn't allow it. He and Manu Ginobili also would not allow the spotlight on themselves either, as they've quietly turned over even more of the offense to their younger teammates.
All year people have waited for the Spurs to get back to last season's Finals form, which is an exercise in futility. For one, last season was basketball at its most beautiful...if it could just be recreated, it would not be special when it did happen. Two, each year brings about a new team, even if the players in the jerseys are the same.
Last season's offense was built on slinging the ball around, finding the best shot and crushing the opposition with movement on the offensive end. But this season, the Spurs have found their run of recent success by predicating their offensive gameplan on Kawhi Leonard's defense. Leonard's intercepting of the passing lanes has opened up new shots and points in transition that were not there a year ago. Leonard is at the highest element of peace with his game we have ever seen him achieve. And he's bringing his team along with him. It looks different, but it is beautiful nonetheless.
One of my favorite pranks as a child came every year during the Easter season. I'd lure my mother in for a hug and make her think I was being sweet, only to crack a cascarone over her head once she embraced me. It was the ultimate troll job. All season the Spurs seemed to be motioning their competitors forward, it even seemed like they were cracking the door of opportunity for the rest of the West. But, did the Spurs do to the Warriors what I did to my mom?
Have they said "come here, come in for the hug, the West is YOURS!" a smile on the Coyote's face, only to crack a giant cascarone over Curry's head with a giant GOTCHA?
Because this game was played on the second night of a back-to-back for the Warriors...we will have to wait to see if it means everything or nothing. The Warriors do have the conference clinched. What are they playing for now?
But, this game could mean that the Spurs have finally hit their groove and the Spurs at their best is better than the Warriors offering. It could mean that the Warriors are not ready for the leap and that they still have their dues to pay in this league that so often acts like a Repo Man. It awards consistency, recognizes heartbreak and only gives the crown jewel to the faces it recognizes.
Then again, it could mean that the Warriors won't play another game this poorly and that this performance wakes them up to what San Antonio is capable of. Maybe Steve Kerr, channeling his inner Pop, wanted this to happen to his group so that they would get a taste of the playoffs and strive for more.
Lastly, it could just be a Sunday night game in the dregs of the regular season, where all are looking for answers to questions that cannot yet be known. This game could be one we all forget about, with no telling signs of things to come. It was on NBATV.
This Easter Sunday game does guarantee a resurrection of some kind. Either the champs will rise forth on a new dawn to capture their place on the throne once again. Or, this new challenger will be raised to new heights past this momentary death, in order to claim a newfound glory. They had just better watch out for those two monster hands waiting to smack them.