Poor dribble penetration; an inability to create open looks; ice-cold shooting from three-point range; a lack of intensity inside: they’re the same blights that we’ve gotten used to rehashing over the past few weeks. Only this time, they belonged to the visiting Golden State Warriors, who stumbled into San Antonio on Sunday and helped the Spurs halt their losing streak at 3.
Reduced to just one former MVP and another all-time great shooter, the champs hardly resembled their typically dominant selves. For all his gifts, Kevin Durant (26 points on 25 shots) still adheres to the same rules of basketball as the rest of the league, even if he has the talent to make the most of them. Stephen Curry throws the pre-accepted physics out the window, releasing the air lock and fundamentally changing how all five defenders move and react while he’s on the floor.
With Curry sidelined by a groin injury for a sixth straight game, Sunday’s matchup was bound to a more basic basketball science, as two flawed teams burned through lactic acid, slogged things out in the half court, and struggled to cobble together runs. Instead, advantages were wrested through leverage, effort, and physicality around the basket, the kind of input and output an old-school coach can always appreciate:
“We worked as hard as we could defensively,” said Gregg Popovich afterwards. “Steve [Kerr] has got them to run such good stuff... I thought we competed really well. We’re making mistakes that hopefully in a while we won’t make as we get used to each other. But their competitiveness kept them in the game and it was a good win.”
Another input that paid off for the Spurs: the insertion of Rudy Gay (19 points, 6 of 10 from the field, 3 of 3 from three) into the starting lineup in the place of Derrick White. Gay’s heel has been an issue for a second season in a row, but it will hopefully be managed. He gives the Spurs crucial firepower on offense and versatility on defense, even if his focus off ball is occasionally lacking.
Setting the tone early and often was LaMarcus Aldridge, who entered the game riding one of the coldest spells of his career. His first touch in the post came on the team’s first offensive possession, as he bullied his man inside for an amenable high-percentage hook near the basket. Aldridge finished 10 of his 16 attempts from the field, pulled down a game-high 18 rebounds, and made the most of a Warriors frontcourt that was without Draymond Green.
While Aldridge rested — which was for under 8 minutes on Sunday — Jakob Poeltl saw the floor, stepping in for Pau Gasol, out again with soreness in his foot. In his small window, Poeltl made an impact, pulling down 5 rebounds (4 on the offensive end) and remaining constantly active around the hoop. Gasol’s injury remains something of a mystery, but Poeltl ensures the team has a quality big to turn to in the meantime.
The interim remains the immediate focus for this team while its handful of bodies are on the mend. The schedule doesn’t let up, as a SEGABABA pits the Spurs against the resurgent 9-7 Pelicans on Monday night. Such is life in the Western Conference, where you’re spared the challenge of Steph Curry one day only to see The Brow the next.
A few notes and quotes...
The starting lineup change-up was a boon in more ways than one
With Derrick White taking touches away from DeMar DeRozan, it was clear that a change was needed in the starting lineup. Rudy Gay’s return was serendipitous that way, giving Pop a logical player to put in White’s place to try.
“I thought Rudy used his length pretty well, like Kevin [Durant]. I mean, nobody can cover Kevin and stop him, but Rudy did everything he could to make it a little bit tougher for him. On offense, Rudy is a scorer, and he helped us in that regard also.”
Gay was reportedly on a minutes restriction of 24 on Sunday, but still eclipsed 30 with the team needing him down the stretch.
A quietly impactful night for DeRozan
He wasn’t exactly dominant on Sunday (20 points on 19 shots, 9 assists, 6 rebounds), but DeRozan steadily created for teammates and was there when the team needed him the most, hitting a couple of clutch shots down the stretch and earning some trips to the free-throw line.
A note on one of the team’s favorite plays this season
Here’s a set we’ve seen the Spurs turn to often this season (typically with DeMar DeRozan, but in this case Rudy Gay) to spring their wing free and, ideally, get them attacking downhill:
The Spurs should run the play “Pound Three Eye” every time down the floor pic.twitter.com/16jss733X8— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) November 19, 2018
As Bryan Oringher pointed out on Twitter, it could be that Pop was saying “Power 3 Ice”. Either way, it’s one to keep an eye out for.
No Southern comfort for Golden State
The Warriors played in Houston on Thursday, Dallas on Saturday and San Antonio on Sunday. Three Texas cities and three losses for the defending champs, who get to spend some time out of their usual first-place perch, now occupied by 11-5 Portland. Smart money would be on them reclaiming the top spot sometime in the near future.