This year, much like any year in the Association, there are approximately three teams that combine to have a ~90% (rough estimate) probability of hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy in June. It just so happens that two of those teams are on pace to have the 1st and 2nd greatest seasons of all time in terms of win/loss (pythag notwithstanding), so the season has an extra fatalistic feel to it.
The two aforementioned teams, the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors, collided in Oakland this evening, in one of the most intriguing January matchups in recent memory. Of course, Spurs coach Gregg Popavich was contractually obligated to hold out one of the Spurs' starters in such a high-profile match, thus the league-leader in DRPM, Tim Duncan, watched from the sidelines.
Duncan sitting was a mixture of him being
carbon dated to approximately 37,000 years old 39 years old and coach Pop undoubtedly delaying any advanced scouting the Warriors coaching staff could obtain from tonight. Fans should not expect to see a full-scale tilt (both in terms of lineups and strategy) between these two teams until the Western Conference Finals. The true winner of this game may not even be apparent by the box score -- it may very well turn out to be whichever coaching staff had a more successful reconnaissance of the others' players and sets.
Danny Green opened on Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard on Klay Thompson. Likewise, the Warriors jumped out with a cross-match of Klay on Tony Parker and Harrison Barnes on Kawhi. Both teams switched assignments often, as Curry and Parker quickly began to guard each other. The Spurs failed to match the Warriors' intensity from the outset, and, in conjecture with the smoldering caldera of emotion that Oracle Arena is during big games, committed a season-high eight turnovers in the opening quarter, leading to 12 points of turnovers for the Warriors.
In this avalanche, coach Popavich did not lose the fact that Steph scored 10 points early and quickly assigned Kawhi as a Daryl Revis one-on-one cover man on the Warriors superstar, as Kawhi hugged up on Steph even in the backcourt. Pop also elected to spring sporadic doubles on the Warriors' other superstar, Draymond Green. Curry played all 12 minutes (as usual to his rotations), going for 15 points on eight shots.
The Spurs, despite their aforementioned turnover problems, survived off of seven free throw attempts. Their defense failed to corral the Warriors in the frame, allowing them to shoot 55% from the floor en route to 29 points. For their part, the Spurs shot 39% from the floor.
The second quarter began and this viewer admittedly felt trepidation. The Warriors most easily exploitable, boss-fight-in-a-video-game glowing weakness is their bench. That's not to say it's necessarily bad, it's just exploitable to a masterful strategist. Any veteran gamer knows, wait until the boss stops attacking (Curry on the floor) and strike when it charges up (bench rotations in with Barnes).
But more Spur sloppiness and Warrior aggressiveness never allowed that supposed massive advantage for the Spurs the play out. As Bob Fitzgerald pontificated, "This is against that vaunted bench!" Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala found seams in the Spurs defense and split them open for driving lanes and the overall ball movement did not peter out once Draymond and Steph stepped out. The second unit also utilized excellent backdoor cuts when the Spurs overplayed the Warriors' shooters.
Meanwhile, coach Pop appeared to either go into damage control or the Spurs gravitated towards what they considered to be a particular strength they could exploit, as their offense collapsed down into low-post sets with the postman operating as a fulcrum ( a la... well, the guy sitting in a suit, Tim Duncan), with a rotation of Kawhi, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Boris Diaw in Duncan's role. The Spurs found moderate success through these sets, with Kawhi being Kawhi (i.e. top four player in the league) and the Spurs' field goal percentage steadily climbed throughout the quarter.
You deserve another look at this. https://t.co/DE46m9zyr9— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) January 26, 2016
Coach Kerr shuttled swingman Brandon Rush back up the depth chart, subbing the resurrected forward in midway through the quarter. Marreese Speights also saw ample playing time in the frame.
Then Curry and Green came back in and the Warriors cruised. Steph kept being Steph (i.e. top one player in the league), Draymond and Klay continued fueling their high octane offense with a steady helping of live-ball take aways from the Spurs, and the lead ballooned up to 18 points at its highest. The Warriors kept Speights in at the five during the run, and he brought some of his most aggressive defensive rebounding, contributing on the boards when his shot (0 of 3 at the half) was not falling.
The Warriors gave the Spurs another new high on the season, scoring 62 points in the half -- the most allowed by the Spurs yet. Kawhi played 19 of the possible 24 minutes, Klay played 18; both led their teams in minutes played. Aside from the Steph highlights, which were plentiful and dazzling, the Warriors' cerebral awareness of incoming Spur blitzing double teams and accompanying laser passes to the open man were the key to the first half. The pass always beats the rotation, no matter how well-coached or quick the rotator or rotation is.
Out of the break, the Spurs fed Aldridge in the post once more. Aldridge was largely ineffective competing against Draymond in the post in the first half, so instead of battling in the post to get into the middle, he elected to spin to the outside for a fadeaway jumper that connected. On the next possession, Kawhi hit a trey to cut the lead to 10.
Rush was actually the first off the bench in the half for Kerr, as Barnes picked up his fourth foul early. Kerr opted to go with Rush, to preserve Iguodala's regular rotation. The Warriors sprang an 11 - 2 run on the Spurs, pushing the lead back up to 20 behind some fairly pedestrian dribble moves and long range shots.
The Spurs offense, a well-oiled machine clocking in at #3 in the league in offensive efficiency, had a Warrior-sized wrench thrown into its gears. It produced a mere 19 points in the quarter, 66 through three, and sub-42% shooting from the field. Manu Ginobli aided somewhat by getting to the line, although even he missed three.
Steph ended up with 37 points, again a season-high allowed by the Spurs. The Warriors hit 89 points with about four minutes in the third left, which is significant because that's the amount of points the Spurs usually allow in 48 minutes. As Steph sat, Boban Marjanovic came into the game -- only one G.O.A.T. allowed on the court at a time, thank you very much.
How do you explain Stephen Curry's ballhandling? (CSNBA & NBA TV) https://t.co/HDzmLY0UhT— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) January 26, 2016
Warriors led 95 - 66 at the end of three.
Speights - Livingston - Iguodala - Barbosa - Barnes opened things up for the Warriors, who finally stalled on offense in the fourth. Barnes and Speights in particular had a largely ineffective day from the field, combining for just 4 of 15 from the field. Barnes fouled out of the game on a horrible, horrible touch And-1 on a breakaway off of a turnover out of a timeout.
That lineup contributed just three points in six minutes. Thankfully the Spurs could not muster any fight on the offensive end to make the Warriors pay for their ineptitude. Both sides eventually located the rim on their iPhone Google Maps apps, finding disjointed rhythms off the deep benches.
None of the starters (outside of the ice cold Barnes) on either sides played in the fourth. None of the Warrior starters played more than 28 minutes. Only five players on either side played north of 25 minutes. Every player suited up played. This game was over after three -- the last quarter was merely a formality.
Timmy watching this game right now pic.twitter.com/66mgJTYo0a— nbaayy (@nbaayy) January 26, 2016
Steph surpassed 10,000 points. Mo has hit a three in three straight games. Which is more impressive? Discuss bellow.
Stephen Curry has crossed the 16,000-minute mark for his career, becoming the 16th Warrior ever to play 16,000 total minutes— GSWStats (@gswstats) January 26, 2016