Per the numbers (and if it happened) it would be the greatest playoff series ever.
Per the eye test, these are two historically good basketball teams winning games in entirely different ways. Golden State crushes opponents with an onslaught of 3-pointers and the basketball magic of Stephen Curry. San Antonio wins games like a python captures its prey -- slowly, excruciatingly suffocating with its defense ...
When the two teams clash, it's a basketball matchup of epic proportions -- the best offense in the world against the most imposing defensive force in the league. In this way, it becomes less of a regular season matchup than a basketball heavyweight bout. The stakes aren't high yet, but each match is still plenty important especially considering the playoffs are near and a potential playoff series looms in the future.
There's a jab here. There's an unsuspecting hook to the face there. And here's a flurry of jabs to the chest, the head, then the chest again until the opponent hits the mat. These teams are just beginning to figure each other out and, for fans, it's a fascinating experience to watch in real-time.
Round I belonged to the Warriors -- easily. Golden State cruised to a 120-90 victory in January. Curry balled. The Warriors bench beat the vaunted Spurs bench. LaMarcus Aldridge completely disappeared, then deleted his Twitter account after the game. It was an emotionally jarring defeat -- as much as January losses allow, to be sure -- for a Spurs team that was off to its best start in franchise story.
Round II went back-and-forth, but the pace played into San Antonio's hands. Curry had his worst shooting night of the season. Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard were the one-two punch that the Spurs needed to ward off the Warriors offense. Boris Diaw replaced Tim Duncan in the starting lineup, activating the Spurs' whip-smart offense and giving Draymond Green, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, fits on the defensive end. It wasn't easy -- and the Warriors missed half of their uncontested shots -- but San Antonio took Round II. Golden State, averaging 115 points per game, was held to 36 points below its season average. Advantage, Spurs.
Round III was the first matchup in NBA history between teams with 65+ wins. (Sunday's matchup will be the second.) The first quarter wasn't pretty, with each team trading jabs. The floodgates opened once Aldridge exited with a dislocated pinky finger and the Spurs never recovered. Duncan was exposed defensively, Aldridge wasn't the same when he returned to action, and the absence of Diaw, the Spurs' Swiss Army knife, left the Spurs with little hope of catching the Warriors. At least it wasn't a total demolition this time around. Advantage, Warriors.
Even though the regular season is winding to a close, and the top four seeds in the Western Conference are locked, Round IV has some high stakes, as far as the regular season is concerned. Golden State is chasing the 95-96 Bulls record, needing a victory Sunday night to continue its pursuit. San Antonio is looking to become the first team in NBA history to finish the regular season 41-0 at home.
The lead-up to Round IV seems like a perfect storm for the Spurs. Golden State will be on the second leg of a back-to-back, playing its third game in four nights, on the road against a team that hasn't lost at the AT&T Center this season. What's more: The Warriors haven't won a regular season game in San Antonio since 1997. Plus, San Antonio's core players -- Leonard, Aldridge, Duncan, Parker, Green -- figure to rest Friday night against Denver. All advantages are in San Antonio's favor.
But, again, anything can happen in a battle between two basketball heavyweights.
Bring on Round IV.
Kawhi Leonard: 23 points on 8-12 shooting, 5-8 from the foul line, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 3-pointers, 1 steal.
Kawhi was remarkably efficient except for, inexplicably, the free throw line (where he is a 89 percent shooter this season). Yet, given LaMarcus Aldridge's struggles, it felt like Kawhi had an opportunity to completely take over the game and failed to capitalize. 12 shots from him wasn't enough last night.
Pop quote of the night
"You can't make mistakes against the best team on the planet."
-- Gregg Popovich
By the numbers
- 2nd: seed, which the Spurs clinched after the loss to the Warriors. The first seed was a long shot anyway, but now it's definitive. San Antonio's potential path to the Finals could include the Mavericks, Thunder and Warriors.
- 14-0: Once Aldridge dislocated his finger, the Warriors went on a 14-0 run. When Aldridge returned, he had no rhythm, and the Spurs were forced to climb out of the hole they'd dug. There's the game.
- 88: Golden State converted 88 percent of their uncontested shots (24) last night, up from 50 percent in the Spurs' win in March. Remarkably, it was their second-best field goal percentage on uncontested shots this season.
- 54-48-90: Golden State shot 54.2 percent from the field, 48 percent from 3-point range and 90.9 percent from the foul line last night. It's almost impossible to beat them when they are shooting at that clip. I mean, come on. It's a 50-40-90 game by an entire team.
- 27: points from Curry, who adjusted to the Spurs defense and beat defenders off the dribble instead of settling for 3-pointers. To wit, Curry made 72.7 percent of his 2-point attempts. He also assisted on nine field goals.
Pop: "guys, we're getting crushed"— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) April 8, 2016
Boris: I got this, I'm on my way pic.twitter.com/3aG3ilr7UV
Seeing the Spurs get clowned is like watching a supermodel get dumped. It’s confusing and incongruous— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) April 8, 2016
This game: pic.twitter.com/hshK2eS12m— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) April 8, 2016
/Tim Duncan stares into the eyes of Mortality— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) April 8, 2016
/Mortality blinks https://t.co/OWkQkvU8p0
lol just saw Boban in street clothes and immediately wondered where he shops. they prolly had to sew Duncan's old JNCOs together— Myles Brown (@mdotbrown) April 8, 2016
Yep no reason to put him back in. https://t.co/2ppBx2J4gi— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 8, 2016
All this Spurs/Warriors coverage and somehow we missed Matt Bonner making history last night: pic.twitter.com/6a05ugraZK— Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) April 8, 2016