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Warriors hold home court, clinch first place, set up interesting rematch on Sunday

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The Warriors clinched the Western Conference title with a strong effort from Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, while the Spurs struggled after LaMarcus Aldridge injured his shooting hand early in the game.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

I knew this was going to be a bad night when I turned on the TV and saw Derek Fisher in the TNT studio and they played the infamous 0.4 second basket in 2004 for the Lakers.  The most hateable man in basketball, for some reason, now is working in the broadcast booth.  I look forward to a few years from now when Tony Parker retires from basketball and can dominate Fisher again, this time in the broadcast studio.

And hey, there was a game played Thursday night, too.

The Spurs had a promising start, but LaMarcus Aldridge dislocated a finger on his shooting hand late in the first quarter and the Spurs rotations became scrambled for most of the rest of the game.  Aldridge was able to return to the game later, but his shooting was off, finishing 5-for-16 for the game.  From the last part of the first quarter through the third, the Spurs looked out of sorts and had trouble shooting the ball and making their defensive rotations.

But give the Warriors a ton of credit.  Despite staggering a bit in their recent games, they seemed fresh and engaged tonight, and when the Spurs stumbled, the Warriors took advantage like a predator taking out the wounded elk that lagged behind the herd. Stephen Curry, who had looked human in recent games, went off and made a series of amazing quick-release three-point shots and runners.  Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes took advantage of the space afforded by Curry's defender-attraction magic to get open shots and drives to the basket. The Warriors also took advantage of the Spurs' missed rotations to get alley oops and dunks on quick back-cuts to the basket to run up an 87-69 lead after 3 quarters.

The Spurs made a bit of a run in the fourth quarter behind Kyle Anderson and Kevin Martin, of all people.  Manu Ginobili also made a solid contribution, and the Spurs brought the margin close enough to force Steve Kerr to bring his starters back in to finish the game.

Game Flow:

The game started with a missed shot from Tony Parker, then Danny Green stole the ball on an errant pass from Draymond Green.  That led to a Tony Parker basket, but on the next possession, the Spurs' defense allowed Klay Thompson a wide-open three point shot, which he quickly drained to give the Warriors a 3-2 lead. This caused Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, just one minute into the game. Obviously he cared about winning this game, despite what some fans might say. After a heated exchange with the team, he sent them back in, and you could see him smiling as he talked to assistant coach Ettore Messina. Pop still enjoys his job, apparently.

The Spurs kept pace for most of the first quarter, and about four minutes in, Draymond Green fouled Tony Parker going for a loose ball, and took exception to the call, charging the referee.  He received a technical foul, and continued to complain loudly and had to be held back by teammates.  Honestly, that kind of behavior would probably have gotten a second tech for almost any other player, but for inexplicable reasons, Draymond gets a kid gloves treatment from the officials.  More about that later.

Kawhi Leonard missed the free throw, and Draymond was pulled from the game by Steve Kerr as he continued to complain and was in danger of being called for the second tech he had already earned (in my opinion).

The game was very even until the thing that Spurs fans most dread happened with a little over 3 minutes left in the quarter.  Andrew Bogut blocked LaMarcus Aldridge's shot, and he jammed his hand up into the bottom of the rim, dislocating his right pinky.  As the hearts of Spurs fans all over the world sank into their chests, LaMarcus walked to the bench where the trainer yanked the finger back into joint and retaped it.  It was something you didn't want to watch twice.

LaMarcus was able to re-enter the game later, but clearly the hand bothered him the rest of the night, and he had trouble hitting the mid-range shots he usually drains effortlessly.

The Warriors went on a little surge to end the quarter behind shots from Leandro Barbosa and Stephen Curry to end the first quarter up 25-20. [Correction: 20-15]

The second quarter started with Golden State on a tear, as Shaun Livingston and Draymond Green got scoring opportunities. The Warrior defense stepped up, and Draymond Green, in particular, initiated contact and used his hands on offensive players to cause turnovers or errant passes.  Kawhi, in particular, got pushed around quite a bit under the basket, and uncharacteristically tried to communicate his concerns to the game officials, who turned a deaf ear.

Golden State went on a 14-0 scoring run spanning the first and second quarters to lead 29-15.  But after this run, the teams played fairly even for the rest of the quarter, with Kawhi Leonard carrying the Spurs to keep the margin to 12 at the half, with Golden State leading 52-40.

LaMarcus came back into the game to start the third, and he hit a shot early, but still seemed to be bothered with the injured hand. Meanwhile, Stephen Curry started to show his magic, and he showed that he didn't need to be open more than a fraction of a second to get a shot off.  He only (only?) hit 3-7 three-point shots in the game, but they all came at times that seemed to stop any nascent Spurs rallies.  He also used his handle to get to the basket for easy layups on multiple occasions.  Harrison Barnes was also hot shooting, and even Draymond Green got in the act with a few wide-open threes baskets.

By the end of the third, the Warriors lead had ballooned to 87-69, and it was looking like a blowout win for the Blue and Gold.

But the Spurs reserves came in late and did some yeoman work cutting into the Warrior lead. Kyle Anderson produced on both defense and offense, with his patented late-in-the-shot-clock jumpers. Danny Green was 3-6 from beyond the arc in the game, and made some key plays on defense. Kevin Martin played most of the fourth and scored in double figures, showing why the Spurs acquired him in the first place.  Halfway through the quarter, the Spurs had cut the lead to 13, and Kerr brought his starters back into the game to finish out the contest.  The Spurs bench kept pace with them but weren't able to get enough stops to close the gap, and the game ended with the Warriors winning 112-101,

Observations:

  • The Spurs had a bad night shooting free throws, and hit only 16-of-23.  Obviously all of the chasing on defense had something to do with it, but it was frustrating to watch.  I'm sure that Pop and Chip are going to be working on this.
  • The Spurs defensive rotations were slow all night. There was a sense of the team just going through the motions. I think there are going to be some interesting film sessions when the team gets back to San Antonio.
  • Against the Warriors, the team really missed Boris Diaw.  Especially with Aldridge not at 100%, they didn't have a counter for Draymond Green and the quick smallball lineup of the Warriors.
  • Timmy was active, but shot poorly.  Like all of the rest of the Spurs, he had to work through a lot of physical play under the basket, but didn't get any calls. He looked pretty frustrated for most of the evening.
  • The floor at Oracle Arena seemed really slippery.  I've seen more players slip down on their court in the last couple of games than I've seen all year at the AT&T center.

Tweets from the Edge (a curated Twitter experience):

On the early timeout

Kawhi had another great game, but he didn't have enough help:

This was the moment that things started to go badly for the Spurs:

I'm not sure this is true, but it's funny:

Music Break:

It's hard for a fan to make it through the last few games of the season, until the real season starts.

But I'm a patient boy, I wait, I wait, I wait.

Final Words:

After this loss, the Spurs record is now 65-13, but the bigger concern is whether there will be any lasting effects from LaMarcus Aldridge's hand injury. He looked out of sorts after he dislocated his finger, but it shouldn't affect his shooting too much ... I hope.  The Spurs' next game is tomorrow night, 8:00 pm, at Denver, where Boban, Bonner and the ballboy will take on the Nuggets.  Since there's no longer a chance of the Spurs catching the Warriors for first in the Western Conference, I hope that Pop will save his veterans for setting the home wins record this weekend. An undefeated record at home for an entire season would be gaudy, and that's a record that can't be broken.

On a personal note, this is my final recap this regular season, but I'll be back in the playoffs.  I have to say it's incredibly fun writing these articles for you Pounders.  I hope you have fun reading them.

Playoffs are coming ...