Despite 60-something wins and a magical season, one thing still hasn't changed: the Golden State Warriors do not win a whole lot in San Antonio.
Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs looked like the team chasing history Sunday afternoon, as the Warriors offered little resistance from start to finish. The Spurs raced out early on some uncharacteristically sloppy Warriors play and never looked back, despite a few efforts to make a game of it.
Playing the second game of a road back-to-back, in an early game no less, the Warriors were really put behind the eight-ball before this one even began. As one might expect, shots weren't falling no matter who took them. Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green finished a combined 7-of-29 from the field, including a sad 0-of-9 from behind the arc. The bench had a better performance, but it wasn't nearly enough to beat a Spurs team flying high.
More telling was the defensive effort, which let a very hot Spurs team execute with impunity. San Antonio deserves credit for playing close to perfect basketball on the offensive end, but the Warriors certainly helped with an uneven defensive effort. The Dubs were frequently burned by the same exact cuts and rubs that they've executed successfully all year long. Spurs stars were able to put up incredible shooting performances as their offense consistently found layups in rhythm. As a result, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green shot a combined 24-of-34 from the field.
The Warriors did play with heart, however, and as we've seen all season, they would step up their level of play in the third quarter. Despite trailing by 23 points in the third, the Warriors made several runs, largely fueled by Stephen Curry. Sadly, the Spurs countered with just as much intensity each and every time. Eventually, the combined weight of fatigue, doubt and inevitability sank the once-indomitable Warriors.
This result will likely become a major talking point as the playoffs approach. The wily old Spurs have done it again, and are surely on their way to the NBA Finals once again. This latest victory surely proved the young, upstart Warriors and their rookie head coach are still apprentice to the master.
Well, don't believe it. The Warriors are still showing competitive fire in completely meaningless games, and they're still 35-2 at home, meaning any team facing the Warriors will have to win a game at Oracle to advance. And as the Spurs themselves can tell us, after their own lopsided loss in Oakland, one blowout does not a season make.
and Black Linings
The Warriors still managed to keep their minutes in check -- an important advantage that both the Spurs and Warriors have consistently enjoyed. They simply haven't had to stretch their minutes in the way that other playoff teams do. When the playoffs begin, people may be surprised by how much the Warriors improve when the league's most valuable player by plus-minus (Stephen Curry) plays an extra 10-12 minutes a night. And by how much the defense tightens up when Andrew Bogut does the same.
Festus Ezeli looks like a new man since returning from injury. The Nigerian national has looked fast, powerful, and huge the last few weeks. And Leandro Barbosa's hot streak continued, as he was the Warriors' second best scorer on the night. And Shaun Livingston refrained from doing anything crazy, as he sat this one out as a suspension, so there's that.
The referees were not a big factor, which is an amazing thing to say. Sooner or later, the NBA will have to realize that low-foul, beautiful-game teams like the Spurs and Warriors are much, much, much better for TV than snore-fest free throw teams like the Rockets and Thunder. The Warriors and Spurs shot a combined 25 free throws, while the Rockets and Thunder shot a combined 76 (!!!) free throws in their own game Sunday afternoon.
Most important of all, the Golden State Warriors are finished with back-to-backs! No matter how long the team plays into the summer, they won't face a single back-to-back this season or in the playoffs. Praise ye basketball gods, for they hath put us through this crucible only to strengthen us.
The Warriors head to New Orleans Tuesday to play their last regular season road game of the season. They finish up with four at home, and a fair chance of equaling the second best home record of all time (39-2). And 68-wins is still pretty freaking impressive, regardless of what anyone else tells you. Remember, the San Antonio Spurs have never won more than 63 games in a season, and they've done alright for themselves. The Warriors are virtually guaranteed to pass that mark in the next five games, even if they do rest their starters every game.
Chin up, Warriors. You will have plenty of opportunities to right this loss. Just hold tight 'till then.