The Warriors throttled San Antonio from end to end in the previous meeting between the two Western Conference adversaries earlier this season. And Monday night was a golden opportunity (no pun intended) for the Spurs to exact their revenge for an embarrassing loss. Both squads were without a handful of noteworthy contributors, though the good guys used depth and stingy perimeter defense to curtail Golden State.
From the jump, the Silver and Black were on a mission to deny Steph Curry the basketball on every possession, crowding his air space and switching every screen in sight. While it wasn’t always perfectly executed, and the two-time MVP got loose for 13 points in the opening frame, their communication and relentless effort ensured the Curry wouldn’t get an attempt off unless he fought tooth and nail for an inch of daylight.
And unfortunately, when you’re guarding the best shooter to walk planet earth, all he needs is a fingerbreadth of breathing room to knock down a seemingly impossible look from anywhere on the court. Curry’s first-half momentum rubbed off on his teammates, as a scrambling Spurs defense had few answers for Golden State’s three-point barrage. Still, San Antonio recovered to enter halftime trailing by a manageable five-point margin.
The third quarter saw the Spurs string together an 11-5 run to take their first lead of the contest, and from that point on, it was a back-and-forth battle, with neither team taking command of the game. That said, San Antonio ratcheted up their defensive intensity behind a beautiful combination of perimeter and interior defense driven by Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl, holding the Warriors to 20 points in the period.
Though the Spurs threatened to pull away with the Warrior’s starters on the sidelines to open the final frame, Steph single-handedly made it a one-point deficit with less than a minute remaining. Dejounte rose to the occasion with a timely long-distance dagger, and Curry answered with a trifecta of his own. But Draymond Green effectively sealed the deal on a horrible heave from the logo allowing San Antonio to win 105-100.
- The evening was full of impressive stat lines, but no one was more remarkable than Dejounte Murray, who recorded a team-high 27 points, ten rebounds, four assists, and career-high EIGHT steals. It felt like the fourth-year floor general was everyone on the court, and he might as well have been with the way he poked the ball away every few possessions. Murray was in an unbreakable rhythm on both ends of the court, draining mid-range jumpers off the dribble and even taking over the game in crunch time. You could argue this was the best performance of his professional career, and I doubt many would tell you otherwise.
- After notching just three blocks through the first ten games, Jakob Poeltl has reclaimed his elite rim-protecting status with 2.1 blocks per game over his last 14 appearances. Not only is the Austrian center back to his usual shot swatting shenanigans, but his 38.4% defensive field goal percentage is the best mark by any center in the NBA to contest at least 100 shots this season. Despite his impeccable interior defense, Poeltl has a limited offensive repertoire that often comes under fire from fans when he struggles to finish at the rim. There were no such complaints on Monday night as the big man made the most of his height advantage.
- Kevin O’Connor discussed how much better DeMar DeRozan plays when LaMarcus Aldridge doesn’t suit up. And that trend continued as the All-Star swingman collected his third point-assist double-double of the season. Deebo averages 24.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 6.7 assists on .516/.462/.875 sans LMA and the team defense improves dramatically too. The sample size may be small, but it’s worth monitoring as Aldridge continues to sit with a hip ailment. People were clamoring for the Spurs to put DeRozan on the trading block a year ago, and now it seems the veterans are experiencing a bit of a role reversal after DeMar has proven to be a more seamless fit next to the young core.
- While Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, and Drew Eubanks undoubtedly played a part in helping San Antonio secure the victory on Monday night, their shooting certainly wasn’t a positive influence. That conglomeration of veterans and young legs were a combined 12-of-49 from the field. For those who don’t have a calculator at the ready, that’s only good for a frosty 24.5% success rate. Of course, it’s rare to see this many Spurs jack up clanker after clanker, so hopefully, this quintet progresses to the mean for the second leg of this short series with the Warriors.
- Some Spurs fans were skeptical whether Devin Vassell would play many minutes as a rookie, though I had little doubt in my mind he would carve out an everyday role with this team. And while you might be able to attribute his relatively consistent playing time to injuries, the 11th overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft has been a defensive stalwart for San Antonio. Aside from the occasional unsuccessful gamble for a steal, Vassell plays textbook defense, stunting and recovering, helping the helper, and committing smart fouls when the opposition outnumbers the Spurs on a fastbreak. Most praise has come for his outstanding defense, but Devin showed off a bit of his scoring potential against Golden State with a pair of trifectas, a one-dribble baseline jumper, and a gorgeous pass-fake to side-step finger-roll.