After extending their season in a rousing game four over the weekend, the Spurs were tasked with the near-impossible: re-create their home cooking on the road against Golden State. Unfortunately, they came up just short, and the Spurs’ summer has officially begun.
Did this series teach viewers anything? If the answer is ‘yes’ then it should probably just be that the Spurs are who we thought they were — and the Warriors too. Without their best player, the Spurs were outmatched, with role players stretching themselves to compete possession after possession, while the Warriors still had three all-stars and are the defending champs. Fighting admirably can get a victory at home, but it isn’t enough to tilt a series.
To start the game, the Spurs reverted to their icy, icy shooting, regardless of how open or contested the shots were. They attempted 20 threes in the first half alone, making only five, and looked completely out of sorts. The Warriors deserve a lot of credit for the defense they played against San Antonio, but in order to stay alive in the series, the Spurs needed to make everything, and instead made next-to-nothing for a good portion of the game.
Like last season, the Warriors were usually ready to double-team LaMarcus Aldridge whenever he attempted to go one-on-one against a defender, and they switched up coverage with defenders like Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Kevon Looney, JaVale McGee, and David West all taking turns and providing different challenges. Despite making nearly everything he took in the second half and coming up big against the champs with 30 and 12, the Warriors did a great job of making every single shot Aldridge took extremely difficult, and it was enough to throw everyone else out of rhythm.
The Spurs’ offense, already a bit of a slog over the course of the entire season, looked borderline dangerous to viewers of the first half Tuesday night. They attempted 20 threes in the first two quarters, some of which were rushed, under heavy pressure, and mostly off, and it often looked like players were grasping at straws as Aldridge struggled down low. Despite battling back to just being down three with under a minute left, that was probably just enough to bury the Spurs for the game.
While the Warriors simply overwhelmed with talent despite their own lackluster shooting to start the game, some Spurs found traction on offense in the last game of the year. Patty Mills, ever the erratic flamethrower off the bench, provided the normal energy that he always brings, but he also hit some tough shots over the course of the game. Slowly, he adjusted to a larger offensive role throughout the season, and even in the last game, when other Spurs seemed drained, he attacked the basket and aggressively looked for his own shot from deep.
Rudy Gay is not as good as Kevin Durant, and that’s not a surprise, but he played well against the Finals MVP in this series and in game five. He contested Durant’s shots well and attacked smaller or slower defenders when given the opportunity. It’s difficult to predict what Gay might do in the offseason with his player option, but should he return to be the scorer the Spurs envisioned behind Kawhi Leonard, fans should be excited for his potential.
The young guys like Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson and Davis Bertans had moments of looking overwhelmed and outmatched throughout the series, but in game five, each player had an important moment. Murray repeatedly attacked off the dribble, even when Green was sagging off him terribly, and he took the jump shots that were available. Those shots will fall eventually. Bertans also took advantage of some lackluster defense out on the perimeter, and he made good on being able to knock down 3s when open.
Without reliable 3-point range, Anderson struggled offensively against the Warriors at times, but in game five, he snuck in for second-chance points and did a nice job of taking advantage of bigger defenders attempting to stick with him. He is a tricky piece to fit against the best defenses, but his playmaking and basketball instincts sure make him an important player for the team.
For the old guys like Tony Parker and Pau Gasol, game five might have represented a true sea change. Gasol is still under contract and Parker is still recovering from his quad injury, but boy did they look outmatched at times. Gasol’s length and passing still make him effective against some teams, but the Warriors had no qualms with Pau going one-on-one down low against any of their bigs. Maybe it’s just a bad matchup for him and perhaps next season he will be better suited to stay on the court.
As for Parker, he just didn’t have the extra oomph needed to blow by defenders, and aside from wily pump-fakes, he struggled to get decent looks from anywhere on the court. He is also still a minus defender, and his 3-point shooting was not respected by the Warriors. It will be interesting to see how the Spurs handle his upcoming free agency and if he comes back next season healthier than this season.
Finally, it was nice to watch Manu Ginobili finish the season healthy and playing at a high level. He’s still got it.