Well, that was encouraging.
The Golden State Warriors, a paltry 62-7 now after their 33rd consecutive regular season loss in San Antonio, are not invincible after all. They looked positively human against the Spurs. They looked like an ordinary basketball team, like any other, albeit one that was clearly tired and feeling the effects of their sixth game in nine nights and missing two of their five most important players in Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut.
I had a wacky conspiracy theory coming into the game. I thought that Steve Kerr would secretly want his guys to lose and lose badly, to prove to them that they could be beaten if they don't commit for all 48 minutes and that they can't simply turn the switch on and off. For future reference you should probably ignore all my conspiracy theories. Kerr coached hard. He wanted it. He was a lunatic on the sidelines all game. He played his stars a ton of minutes on a SEGABABA. His players gave what they had and were actually a lot more locked in defensively and less sloppy offensively than they've been in some time. The game was played with --cliche alert-- playoff intensity.
The problem was that his stars just didn't have much in the tank, especially Stephen Curry, who's bailed his club out of several would-be losses this season when no one else seemed all that invested. The Spurs clearly focused their whole defensive game plan on taking away Curry's looks from three, at the expense of conceding virtually everything else. Everyone switched on every screen. The bigs hedged past the three-point line, when they had to. Curry hit one ridiculous shot in the third quarter, missed quite a few make-able ones, and missed a bunch more in between.
The Warriors repeatedly tried varying their screens so that Curry would be switched onto a big, but he only occasionally drove past his defender in those situations and too often settled for the simple pass to Draymond Green or whomever and then didn't seem to work very hard to spring open off the ball. Those were the two most glaring signs for me of his fatigue, his inability to get looks off the ball and the rarity in his attempts to take his man off the dribble.
Fatigue was also evident in Green's defense against LaMarcus Aldridge, who was hellbent for redemption after his dud of a performance in these teams' first meeting back in Oakland. We've seen Aldridge have plenty of great games by now, but his scoring comes mostly off jumpers with a few post moves mixed in. Against Green on Saturday he was like Shaquille O'Neal, repeatedly backing the smaller man down to get closer
and even when he missed, he battled for the board, with Kawhi Leonard usually around the scrum as well. Aldridge got three offensive boards and Leonard six, and the Spurs doubled up the Dubs in both offensive rebounds (14) and second-chance points (24), which was ultimately what won them the game.
"Yeah I was rushing, they were playing small so I was trying to play too fast," said Aldridge afterward of his struggles at Oracle Arena. "I thought tonight I took my time and I tried to make my plays."
Just about everyone seemed to take their time. Gregg Popovich had his guys playing at a snail's pace, grounding nearly every possession down to the limit like something we'd see in NCAA tournament games. There were post-ups, then more post-ups, and then for a change of pace, more post-ups on top of that. And still they were sloppy, with 18 turnovers, trying too many passes through the thicket of arms and legs and attempting too many drives in crowded confines. Green aside, the Warriors were quite successful in disrupting the Spurs offense and forced more dead possessions than Pop cared to count I'm sure.
But by hook or by crook, the Spurs were successful in getting Golden State to play the game at their speed and by their rules. Even though Kerr dictated that it would be a small-ball affair from beginning to end, using Brandon Rush in his starting lineup with Green at center, Popovich countered in personnel but not tactics. Tim Duncan came off the bench and was mostly a non-factor, playing eight minutes and none at all in the second half. Boris Diaw started in his place and simply took the post-ups that would've gone to Duncan instead, setting the tone early on with three scores against the slighter Harrison Barnes.
It was a back-and-forth game of fits and starts, with both sides suffering through numerous cold spells and neither able to gain much separation. The Spurs got 17 points from their starting frontcourt in the first quarter, but it represented the totality of their scoring in the period.
San Antonio's bench started very poorly, with Duncan sluggish and out of sorts and his mates combining for more turnovers than shot attempts. Even with the Warriors shooting 33 percent from the field and 1-of-9 from deep, they led 18-17 after one and things seemed ominous.
The bench woke up a bit in the second, with a pair of threes from Manu Ginobili
and one from Patty Mills
but mostly it was Leonard and Aldridge continuing to have their way inside with 13 more points between them.
Surprisingly the Warriors couldn't answer tit-for-tat. Green set guys up for a couple of easy ones, but they were still ice cold from outside and 1-of-14 for the half. You saw that Curry was out of sorts because he got a three-point attempt swatted for the first time all season --courtesy of Danny Green--
and then Green spiked one of his lay-up attempts later on.
The Spurs stretched a lead as high as 11, but the Warriors closed with the final five points of the quarter to make it 43-37 at half.
The third quarter was when things got dicey. There were a couple of head-scratching calls on Leonard on both ends of the floor. The offense ground to a halt, needing a couple of corner threes from Tony Parker and one bomb apiece from Leonard and Ginobili just to stay above water.
David West came in off the bench and couldn't get it going. Curry made a contested 30-footer and the Warriors nailed five other triples in the quarter, getting good looks from ball movement. The game was tied 65-65 after three, but definitely tilting toward the visitors.
And then they just shut down, with ample help from the Spurs, scoring just 14 points in the fourth. Curry and Klay Thompson combined to go 0-of-6 from downtown, Green's meter was on "E" and they had no saviors left.
Danny Green hit one awkward corner three, scored a layup off his own miss and another layup on a four-step drive that left Kerr apoplectic.
Aldridge hit a late jumper and for once the Warriors were outplayed in the clutch, getting outscored 12-5 over the final five minutes.
In the end, it doesn't matter if it was intentional or not, the result is still the same: The Warriors finally got beat by an elite team. They know it's possible now, it's happened. A seed of doubt has been planted, however small.
And the Spurs learned they can beat them, too.
Your Three Stars:
1) LaMarcus Aldridge
2) Danny Green
3) Boris Diaw
Up Next: At Charlotte Hornets (39-30)
Can you say "letdown"? The Spurs go from facing Steph Curry to visiting his hometown team, and the Hornets have been one of the league's biggest pleasant surprises, especially post All-Star break. They'd won 17 of their last 21 before inexplicably losing tonight at home to the lowly Nuggets, with D.J. Augustin of all people scoring 24 off the bench for Denver. Kemba Walker is enjoying his best season so far, Al Jefferson is back after being injured but coming off the bench and Nicolas Batum has been pretty decent for them, but man it's a bit of a head-scratcher for that roster to be this good. We'll get an up close look for ourselves on Monday. It's only a one-game road trip, so don't be surprised if Pop leaves a few vets at home. The Spurs already beat them at home on Nov. 7, and I defy anyone to tell me a single thing they remember from that game.