WCF GM 3: Warriors 120 – Spurs 108

The biggest disappointment I have ever felt as a Spurs fan was in 2001 when the Lakers came into town for the much-hyped Western Conference Final matchup of the previous two champions. Phil Jackson famously added an asterisk to the Spurs’ ’99 team and won the 2000 title by narrowly slipping by the Blazers in game 7 which required a 15-point comeback. The Spurs had lost Tim Duncan for the playoffs and so were hobbled in their title defense. The Spurs had home court. The Lakers wanted revenge for the ’99 sweep.

Instead of a classic battle, we saw Kobe drop 45 in game 1, the Lakers dominate game 2, and finally blow away the Spurs in the Los Angeles. Derek Fisher hit a record number of threes, and the Spurs were left to question themselves all offseason.

This year’s matchup had a similar air. The Spurs last faced the Warriors before they swapped Mark Jackson for Steve Kerr and began their transcendant three-year run. Steph, Klay, and Draymond were young but gave enough fight to nearly topple the Spurs back then, who needed some crunch-time free throw misses from Richard Jefferson, and Manu Magic to help steal game 1. The two teams played three overtimes in that series (2 in the first game, and one in the fourth). The Spurs went on to be heartbroken in the Finals, and then followed that up with a title the following year (The Dubs lost in seven games to the Clippers).

Since then the Spurs also got beat in seven vs Chris Paul, and got dumped last year by KD and Russ even though they had a franchise record 67 wins. For all the Spurs have done this season, they are clearly limited. The Warriors improved their 73-win squad with an all-time great. Surely there was no plan that could overcome talent.

I believed SA had nothing for the Warriors except maybe one steal game based on Kawhi’s ability and a good shooting night. Now? We are left to wonder what if? Game three was all but decided once Kawhi was ruled out for the game.

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I would not call the feeling I have about this series disappointment. It certainly does not approach the gut-punch that was Kobe dropping buckets at will in the Alamodome back in 2001. I could not help but feel good about the other Spurs that were giving the Warriors a game for three quarters tonight. Even The Greatly Disappointing LaMarcus Aldridge has an excuse: the playmakers he relies heavily on are out. He has to play beyond his well-established abilities.

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It is hard to feel disappointment when the TV guys are all singing the praises. Pop is getting twitter praise like “look how he is getting production from random guys”. Barring a miracle, this is the end of the line for the Spurs on Monday night and it is in a far better fashion than the Rockets or Thunder left on. Hell, Boston played their final home game (likely) and got whacked by 44. To even lose by 40 on Monday would not stain any reputations any further.

I mean, Manu is going out swinging with all his might:

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This is what you want to hear:

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Without Kawhi, there is no chance. We all will point back to game 1 and that 23 point lead as evidence of something like a chance 1. While I want to bottle that narrative and hug it, I have watched this league long enough to know that one game does not tell the story of a series. Hell, last series was evidence of that fact. Part of what makes the NBA great is the series format allowing for the best team to demonstrate its superiority by mitigating the one-off luck night from the equation.

The first game was as Manu described: Spurs playing at ’10’ while the Warriors were playing at ‘7’. Even in this game, they did not have some role player to rely on. They turned to Mr. Bandwagon himself, Kevin Freaking Durant for 13-straight in the 3rd. While even Jalen Rose pointed to the fact that Kawhi was holding KD in game one, we have to remember that Leonard cannot guard everyone. The talent disparity was the reason most sane people expected a Warrior victory with maybe only dropping a game.

I cannot be disappointed in this team. I do have a few questions about LMA, who has come up pretty small in straight playoff years. That is for another time. The series is not officially over, even though we all can see the fat lady warming up.


  1. And the March 29th game wherein the Spurs did something very similar but with a blown lead in the second quarter instead of the late third. It could be taken as evidence that this was always going to play out as it happened. 

The Great Closeout Debate

In the immediate aftermath everyone was pretty upset with the Warrior’s Zaza Pachulia for sliding underneath Kawhi. After the quotes from both Zaza and Kawhi came out — both saying there was no intent — it seemed things were going to settle in the realm of something like distaste. 1

Then Gregg Popovich came out with a firery rant that touched on all three subtopics of this issue:

1. Was it intentional?

Pop (paraphrased):

Who cares about his intent? You get jail time for unintentional manslaughter.

2. Was he upset?

What do you think? We had a chance to beat the best team in the league by 23+ and our best guy went down.

3. Was it dirty?

Zaza sure has some history of it and it plays into their feeling about it.

Here is the play again, for reference.

Pop ripping Zaza

The obvious counter-argument here is that Bruce Bowen was hurting dudes in his time as a Spur and got his number in the rafters in SA for it (among other things).

Here is some surface-level hypocrisy from Pop, as pointed out by Matt Doyle.

Pop Defending Bowen

Some dirty Bowen lowlights:

I think the key here is context. The style of play in 2006 was famously more forgiving of physical play. The kind of thing Bowen did then was mostly discouraged by unwritten rule. Now it is explicitly outlawed.

See this in the old MYSA article:

Popovich said Bowen is being singled out, citing incidents where New Jersey’s Richard Jefferson and Dallas’ Josh Howard sprained ankles after landing on Miami’s Shaquille O’Neal and Golden State’s Mickael Pietrus.

It was more of an issue back then. Enough for the league to step in and actually provide guidance instead of direct calls to Bowen himself about changing his ‘tactics’.

If this happened with Bruce Bowen on the floor, on the bench or on the roster that is one thing. He is long retired and the game has changed in the last decade.

Earlier in the EC Semis we were arguing the relative dirty nature of the Kelly Fight compared to the 80s’ slugfests. What was tough basketball then is now over-the-line. I don’t make the rules, nor do I want to get into a debate over the shoulds of the game, but I think it is clear that Zaza is a habitual line-stepper and that he has no benefit of the doubt in this scenario, at least with Pop.

I do not have video, but LMA might have done something similar to Curry just after. This sort of emphasizes the point about reputation. It is hard to say the guy that throws elbows, and attempts MMA moves does not mean harm compared to Aldridge, who has no such rep. So it goes.


  1. Noted dirty player Draymond Green saw the video and seemed to only offer a dutiful ‘eh, not dirty’ without a passionate defense. It was telling. 

Clear Second Place

When was the last time we absolutely knew there was a clear better team than the Spurs? Was it those early 2000 Lakers? Was it the Heat? While the SSOL Suns were everyone’s favorite fun-and-gun squad, they only managed to beat (sweep) our favorite team once in a series. The Heat were all but beaten on their own court in one series, and thoroughly dismantled in another. Those OKC Thunder that had everyone questioning the new kings of the NBA? Well the Spurs managed to avenge a previous playoff loss (albeit with a timely injury to Ibaka).   

These Warriors are an all-time great team. This Spurs team is also, just a little less great.  

The Internet was filled with overreaction hot takes in the wake of the Warriors’ 72nd win on the season and first in 33 tries in SA, one that also ended the Spurs second-greatest-all-time home winning streak at 48.  

The dirty secret is that the Spurs have less trouble defending GSW (season lows in pace, points for The Ws) and way more trouble scoring. While some of our fellow fans point to Diaw’s absence as proof that SA still has a chance, that reliance on an aging (but very talented and crucial) guy is telling. Kawhi and LaMarcus are the two leading scorers on this team and yet they struggled in at least one game against the W’s. The Warriors took three of four against SA, but two were throttlings and this while also missing a role player or two for a couple. 

The Kevin Martin signing was a sign that the Spurs wanted more firepower — and likely for the Warriors. 

While Steph Curry and LMA are matchup problems when in the lineup, the Spurs don’t have any other clear advantages in the other units. Meanwhile, GSW is abusing Patty Mills when Sean Livingston is in.  

The playoffs exacerbate these kinds of things. Whereas I usually felt the Spurs had their best shot in out executing other teams, when the opponent does just as good of a job, defends as well, AND has once-in-a-generation talent? Well sometimes you come in second place. 

Here’s looking forward to the playoffs.  

Ooof — Spurs get smoked in GS

Kevin Martin was put in a blender. While this loss wasn’t nearly as awful as the previous, it was another beatdown. While it only means the Spurs can’t win the first seed in real terms, it also means they have somewhat of a psychological hindrance until the late May meeting (presumed) in the WCF. Sure, a home win on Sunday will soothe the collective pride of the fan base, but the Spurs are will now have to win in Oakland if they want to go through the mighty Warriors. And they played poorly both times. 

Last night they had the benefit of a slightly unfocused Warriors team that had some doubts and the turnover yips. Sure, that Minnesota loss likely encouraged them some, but it was evident in the first quarter that whatever focus and resolve it instilled didn’t stop the turnover flood. 

TNT showed a graphic highlighting the Warriors’ defense against the Spurs. Beating the W’s isn’t only about defending them, although that is everyone’s chief concern. It is scoring against them. Unlike all the free-scoring teams we’ve seen (ever), these guys defend. Last year Chuck Barkley dismissed GS as merely a ‘jump-shooting team’, thinking they were the Sieve Suns reincarnated. They have played nearly league-leading defense for two years now. And yes, they can score. 

Tough shooting nights happen but this wasn’t just that. Danny Green was hitting buckets. When the Spurs have off nights those kinds of open shots don’t go in. This was about guys not getting clean looks. Kawhi was out of the offense early, and struggled to get to his spots. Not for not trying, but because he was being defended well early. 

For all the Spurs’ offensive struggles early, they were down only 12. But to these guys, who make blistering runs, that was too much.

I hate to make so much of a regular season game but we all know that this was basically a play-in game for the number 1 seed, however unlikely. All that is left to play for is a perfect home record, which is meaningful

Spurs and Warriors Game One — Second Half

I took a break. Had to work. Both real and school. Also going to work? Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. Ballin’ out of control just like they did against the Nuggets.

3rd Q

Steph Curry show! I mean I’m torn. I’m a basketball fan before I’m a Spurs fan so seeing someone ballin’ like that? It’s awesome. Seeing it happen against my Spurs? Gut-wrenching.

Seriously though. The dude is doing it with quickness and shooting. He has just enough wiggle to get to the lane that keeps you honest while he unlocks that sweet jumper. An uncomfortable sense of frustration comes over the team but worse is feeling the need to match. Every non-matching shot by our guys feels desperate and inadequate. The good news is that the lead isn’t something crazy and the Warriors don’t have matching fourth quarters (usually).

Of all the scoring Steph did, the most frustrating are the driving scoops. Those represent a break-down of the defense. Harrison Barnes grabbed a missed scoop and punched it. The little mini-breakdown felt less like the Spurs stemming the tide than it did GS getting cocky.

4th Q

Ginobili starts out the fourth with a nice scoop. Steph responds with some more beautiful basketball. He’s doing the driving and kicking that we need Parker to do. He’s hitting the threes we need Gary Neal to hit. This is our nightmare.

The lead, once back down to ten, is now at sixteen. Eight minutes remain. The Warriors’ last couple of misses weren’t good defense just fortunate rolls for us. Neal misses a wide open rhythm jumper. Kawhi misses a follow up one off the rebound. I refill my cup with more drink to sustain me for the rest of this game.

Aaaand Steph just won’t stop. This time another scoop. Dude has 38 points. Routinely blowing by and scoring over our best defender(s). Mama, there goes that man.

I slipped out to do some Sports Walking of my Dog. I’m checking the phone. It is 102-88. Three minutes or so left.

I walk back in and TP scoops his way to the basket. A turnover. Another basket. There is life in these gray jerseys yet! Spurs cut the lead to 104-96! Some life with two minutes left. Now a stop. Things are looking good. The ten people in the AT&T Center will go crazy if we can get another basket right here, right now.

A turnover! TP tries to kick it back instead of looking at the cutter. Dick Jefferson’s corpse looks to get some revenge as he flies into the open court. He’s fouled before he can punch it though. If he misses these … I’ll laugh.

LOLOLOLOL

RJ clangs both! (Of course). KAWHI HITS A THREE. 1 KAWHI BLOCKS STEPH CURRY. TONY ATTACKS THE BASKET FOR TWO. THE LEAD IS ONLY THREE POINTS.

ANOTHER STOP. The lead is now down to one after a couple of freebies from Diaw. Spurs are on a 15-0 run here. Steph gets the ball on the wing. Does his little dance. He’s toying with us. I can totally see a soul-crushing shot-clock beating three over two guys right here. A miss! He shot it too long on a fadeaway from the left baseline! But. But the Warriors got the rebound. That reminds me that when I checked the stats as I walked the dogs we were being out-rebounded and out shot. Now we need another stop … and don’t get it. Jack hits a pull-up on Tony Parker that looks like something Chauncey Billups used to do when he was good. I’m okay with it. I don’t know how many stops in a row that was just then but you can’t realistically expect to get all of them. Now down three what do we do? Quick shot? Go for the tie? Steph Curry lurks no matter what.

DANNY GREEEN YA’LLL

Clutch three. Now, just have to stop Steph Curry from getting a shot off. You know, what we couldn’t do all night until just a few minutes ago. He’s working. Dribbling. Dancing. Get’s caught up! Tosses up a prayer that rims off harmlessly. 2 OVERTIME.

Overtime

As always, these things are like a completely different game. The momentum could be with us but I can’t shake the thought of the energy we expended trying to come back. It looks like we did, in fact, use it all up. Golden State looks like the team that stormed out to the 18-point lead. We look tired. It ain’t over though. The Spurs are defended and trading baskets. Diaw hits a three to tie! Danny Green flies by two guys for the lead! We get a stop!

Hell.

I realize I will need more to drink for the rest of this game. Steph won’t make it easy. After a series of terrible misses, he attacks the basket off a turnover to tie it at 113. No Timmy. Do we go to TP again? Gino? Looks like Kawhi, the new star ya’ll. Turnaround fadeaway in the post to put us up two. I’m stoked.

Steph misses another. Let’s end this thing, ya’ll. One basket puts it at a two possession game. Tony is dancing. Pick and roll from the top of the key. Pull up! … Miss. No rebound. Jarrett Jack scores. It’s tied.

Dammit.

This won’t be easy. I hate when I’m right.

It’s last shot time. Who takes it? Kawhi feels like the right option but he needs Tony to feed him. Do we post him? Nah. He’ll get swarmed down there in that time. I don’t know if he’s ready to deal from the post in that situation. Timmy makes an appearance after a foul.

Let’s do this.

8 seconds.

Gino gets the ball on the wing. Pulls up with two seconds left … the ball ricochets off the backboard.

More free basketball. I probably will die.

Second Overtime

Well after that initial series of turnovers and missed shots and flubbed rebounds we know that everyone is tired. This is good as long as Steph Curry is clanging ‘em. Golden State isn’t quite a one-man team but without that bit of magic they are pretty ordinary. This is as good a time to demonstrate superior execution as any.

Tony is out here missing. Steph is out here missing. Harrison Barnes is out here cashing threes, though. Tony responds with some spin button. Trading three for two is dangerous. Fouling Draymond Green means we are back down to a three-point deficit. Tony finally hits something farther out than two feet. Harrison Barnes … clanks a wide-open three! Offensive foul on the rebound! Chance for the lead!

GS leaves Boris Diaw wide open. He throws up some silliness that goes in! A stop! A Tony Parker jumper! Spurs up three! The Shrieking Lady is SHRIEKING!

The Ws get a couple points. Spurs are up two. We need about two baskets with this much time left 3. Tony, to Kawhi, to DANNY GREEEEEEEN.

That was so money ya’ll. Some clutch baskets down the stretch by practically the whole team 4.

Welp. Speaking of clutch shots, that miss from Gino after Golden State scored was not a clutch shot. Curry scoots down the lane and fingerrolls for two. Tony tries a spin in the lane. He falls after the miss. Curry scoops up the miss. Someone stupidly tries to steal it from him there. It’s like 5-on1. Golden State scores with 3 seconds left to go up one.

I’m dying.

Series of time outs and false starts. Trading fouls with time outs.

GINOBILI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

For some reason Golden State left Ginobili wide open on the wing. He cashed a high-arcing shot. Finger in the air. Spurs are up two. I’m still dying. This is incredible.

Now a stop. That’s all that is needed.

ONE. STOP.

1.2 seconds left.

Stopped. Jarrett Jack gets the last shot and I don’t know what to say about that game except that it was awesome. Diaw was incredible, too. He blocked Curry in that incredible run. Danny Green hit two or three huge bombs late/OT/OT2.

There are a ton of things to say. The Spurs lived up to the hype. They out-executed Curry’s magical Warriors. How much of a strategy is it to wait until Steph gets tired of cashing threes? How many times can we get a come back 18-2 run to tie? How many more times this series can the Spurs overcome being out-rebounded and shoot terrible in the first half?

We’ll see. Tonight I have a paper to write.

Go Spurs Go.

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1. It is worth noting that Tony Parker was the catalyst in all of Kawhi’s scores. Dude played with Curry aggressiveness (Tony’s fave word, ya’ll). [↩](#fnref:p49837416757-1)

2. I totally thought it was going in no matter how awful it looked. [↩](#fnref:p49837416757-2)

3. 1:21 [↩](#fnref:p49837416757-3)

4. As is necessary when you need to come back from 18 points. [↩](#fnref:p49837416757-4)

Spurs and Warriors Game One — First Half

I am in writing a last-minute research paper that I should have completed about three weeks ago. Such is life. Still, I have miraculously found the time and ability to live-blog-distract-myself during said writing.

1st Q

Immediately (or really, during, as it began with about two-minutes left in the Heat game) after MVP Bron and co dropped game one against the Bulls, the Spurs come out and look like they’ve been chillin’ all week also. So much of basketball is rhythm. So much rhythm gets lost in scrimmages and practice. There is no way to reproduce the do-or-die rush of adrenaline that comes with playoff game. Thus far, Golden State has played more recent games than have the Spurs and it shows. Missed buckets, slow reactions. This is to be expected. Still, the spark to life came and the Spurs are back in it. The Warriors are still ahead and looking good.

2nd Q

I need to move to Argentina, ya’ll. Messi came in in the 60th minute and scored two goals on four shots this weekend (the other two were off the top corner and off the keeper). Gino comes in and hits a three, gets a steal, and looks 31 years old. Mark Jackson is a good-ass coach. Golden State looks scrappy. They have shooters (which are always game-changing in that infuriating way), and Mark gives them some swagger and confidence. Curry just hit a three to put the Warriors up 42-31. It is only the W’s third (Spurs have four). I’m thankful. The GS beat writer Tim Kawakami1 said that he thought the Spurs would win because we could match them three-for-three. The flaw with that is this: Curry can get his own shot, even if they look impossible or ridiculous. The Spurs have a Rube Goldberg-style of getting those shots, comparatively speaking. The Drive and Kick style is awesome in the flow of the game but it’s hardly the magic you need in the playoffs. ***More soccer references warning *** It is Barca sans Messi-magic. That is to say, it is Arsenal.

Also of note: Bogut’s big-man floater. It is stupid. I hate it. Mostly because he hit it.

The Ginobili in-traffic-dunk will forever be my favorite thing ever.

Matt Bonner playoff poor-performance will forever be my least-favorite thing ever. Beside Juwon Howard judo-chopping Derek Anderson.

After a series of embarrassing strategic fouls on Bogut 2, Mark Jackson takes the Australian out and the Warriors come out of the time out and hit a three. It’s 53-49 and I’m out of snacks.

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1. [@Timkawakami](http://twitter.com/timkawakami “twitter”) [↩](#fnref:p49827783405-1)

2. Whatever your feelings on the tactic, I hate the Hack-A-[Name] the most. It doesn’t rhyme if it isn’t Shaq and that makes it terrible. [↩](#fnref:p49827783405-2)