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Spurs close out Warriors after near fourth-quarter collapse

The Spurs let the Warriors come close to completing a comeback, but showed composure in the clutch to get their fourth straight win.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs are now on a four-game winning streak, after escaping Golden State with a close 112-107 victory over the Warriors. The Silver and Black had a big lead early on, but had to come up big in the clutch to put away one of the best teams in the league in what was an exhilarating matchup.

The Spurs couldn’t have asked for a better start of the game. After hitting a couple of three-pointers to start the festivities, the Warriors really struggled to put points on the board, partially because Stephen Curry was missing, but mostly because San Antonio’s defense was flying around the court contesting every shot the home team generated after Curry was forced to give up the ball. On the other end, Golden State seemed a little slow and almost lethargic, likely as a result of being on the second game of back-to-back. Making matters worse, their initial strategy of having Draymond Green roam and help was thwarted when his man, Keldon Johnson, hit a couple of consecutive threes, forcing him to stay closer and opening up the lane. The Spurs took advantage and logged 36 points in the opening frame and led by 15 after one.

The Warriors went small in the second quarter, with Nemanja Bjelica at center and four perimeter players. That unit was designed to cause problems for San Antonio’s defense, and to an extent, it succeeded. After trying to match it by playing Keldon Johnson at center, it became clear that Jakob Poeltl was needed to protect the rim, but more importantly, to bring order on that end. Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of Lonnie Walker IV, who had a fantastic first half, the offense had some dry spells that allowed the home team to chip away at the lead while Curry rested. A run seemed inevitable once the former MVP returned, but he was still cold from the field and couldn’t really turbocharge the Warriors’ offense as he normally does. Thanks to some timely buckets by Derrick White, San Antonio managed to hold a nine-point lead at the break.

The Warriors are the best in the league in third quarters by a country mile and the Spurs rank among the worst after halftime, so once again, a run by Golden State seemed predestined. Luckily, the Dubs started out looking as lackadaisical as they did in the first quarter on defense and sloppy when it came to taking care of the ball on the other end. San Antonio had plenty of opportunities to build a truly insurmountable lead, but as they have in past games, they simply lacked the killer instinct to do so. Some good drives by Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV gave the offense a much-needed bite, but the threes were not falling at the same rate anymore. Despite holding a double-digit lead for most of the frame, things weren’t looking great near the end, as Stephen Curry awoke to fuel a late-quarter push. The buzzer-beater he hit from 40-feet seemed to foreshadow trouble for the Silver and Black.

In the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, the Spurs only managed to score four points, looking lost against a zone and unable to hit a three-pointer. The Warriors were not playing like the contender they are, but they still did well enough to get within striking distance just in time for Curry to take over late and complete the comeback. It looked like that was going to be the case, but as they showed in their hard-fought win against the Celtics, these Spurs have learned how to handle adversity in the final minutes of a game.

After a couple of Curry buckets put the Warriors ahead, San Antonio attacked the basket. Keldon Johnson got a layup and a trip to the line, in which his miss turned into an offensive rebound and a three-pointer from Derrick White to regain the lead. The Spurs wouldn’t trail again. White, Johnson and Murray kept on driving while the Dubs missed three-pointers. It was yet another encouraging sign of growth from a Spurs team that no longer looks overwhelmed in the clutch.

Game notes

  • The Spurs didn’t have a huge edge in points in the paint in this one, but they hit only one fewer three-pointer than the Warriors and actually outscored them from the line despite taking two fewer shots. That’ll do.
  • Thaddeus Young was once again the backup center, but this time he played just 14 minutes, as Pop went small for a while. It seems like the less Young plays, the worse he looks. The big man has expressed his unhappiness with the small role he has and it seems that, after years of starting or playing heavy minutes, he struggles to get going in short bursts.
  • Curry missed shots he’d normally make and looked either tired or disinterested for long stretches, but the Spurs deserve credit for guarding him well most of the game. He still had 27 points but it took him 28 shots to get there and he logged just five assists, in part because San Antonio rotated well as a team to contest after his passes.

Play of the night

Derrick White had missed five threes in a row before this one, including two from pretty much the same exact spot. It’s great to see that he now has the confident to still let it fly, even in the clutch.

SVP awards

3rd place (1 point) - Lonnie Walker IV | 21 points in 13 shots, four rebounds

Walker scored 18 of his total 21 points in the first half and then mostly disappeared, like he typically does after a big stretch. But during those first two quarters he showed the potential that had fans giddy earlier in his career. Lonnie drove with purpose, hit threes, got to the line and played solid defense. Whether he’ll ever be consistent enough to become the elite sixth man his tools suggest he could be is unclear, but when he has it going, he’s electric.

2nd place (2 points) - Dejounte Murray | 23 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists

Murray could easily get first place, considering the raw production and the clutch layup he made, but the fact that he has to play such a big role in the offense sometimes hurts him. It took Dejounte 21 shots to get his points and he turned the ball over four times. He also didn’t log a single free throw. I keep punishing for something he can’t control, but the price of being the number one option is increased scrutiny. Still a fantastic performance from the Spurs’ leader.

1st place (3 points) - Derrick White | 25 points in 16 shots, three assists, three steals

What hurts Murray benefits White. Since he’s the second or third option, whenever he steps up, his impact looks bigger than it might be. In this case, however, he truly was huge for the Spurs on both ends. The defense is always there, but the way White attacked on offense to get several layups and trips to the line was exactly what the team needed. The shot comes and goes, but, as mentioned, he seems comfortable taking threes and he hit a huge one on Saturday to give the Spurs the lead late. This is the White the team needs.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 38pts

2nd - Devin Vassell - 20pts

3rd - Derrick White - 16pts

4th - Keldon Johnson - 15pts

5th - Jakob Poeltl - 12pts

6th - Thaddeus Young - 9pts

7th - Doug McDermott & Bryn Forbes - 5pts

8th - Lonnie Walker IV - 3pts

9th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts

10th - Jock Landale - 1pt

Next game: at Suns on Monday

After beating one of the best teams in the West, the Spurs will face another one. The Suns lost to these Warriors on Friday, but they are a fantastic team that will be well-rested after two days off. Winning five in a row seems unlikely, but this team keeps surprising, so it’s not completely out of the question.