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Warriors blitz Leonard-less Spurs in huge comeback win

Golden State outscores San Antonio by 22 in the second half of a wild Western Conference Finals Game 1.

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors - Game One Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

OAKLAND, Calif. — Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors was literally a tale of two halves.

After six days of rest and an early 12:30PM PST start, the Warriors came out of the gate like Thunder Snow in last week’s Kentucky Derby. Golden State traded baskets with San Antonio for the game’s first seven minutes. However, the Warriors’ offense came to a screeching halt after Mike Brown substituted Andre Iguodala and JaVale McGee for Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia with just over five minutes to go in the first quarter.

The combination of Iguodala and McGee usually provides a spark off the bench for the Warriors, but the Spurs proceeded to go on a 32-10 run over the next 10 minutes. McGee only played a total of five minutes and was largely ineffective in that span, recording two fouls and a turnover to go along with one point and a single rebound.

As the game went on, an ominous cloud of concern began to form over Iguodala, who played just 10 minutes in the first half and didn’t return for the rest of the game. Iguodala spent much of the second half seated at the end of the bench, which is uncharacteristic for the 13-year NBA veteran who is usually the first one off the bench to congratulate his teammates. It wasn’t until after the game that we learned he was experiencing some discomfort in his left knee.

“He looked just a little hobbled out there,” coach Mike Brown told Bay Area New Group’s Marcus Thompson II. According to Thompson II, Iguodala said that he didn’t tweak his knee during the game, but knew that something didn’t feel right. Iguodala also said he will undergo an MRI on Monday that will determine his playing status for Game 2 on Tuesday.

The Spurs came into the Warriors’ kitchen in the first half of Game 1 and ate their Mother’s Day brunch. “I think we came out just a bit too relaxed to start the game and they hit us in the mouth early,” said Warriors’ forward Kevin Durant after the game.

San Antonio operated with a calm and collected crispness on offense throughout the first 24 minutes of action. It seemed as though the Spurs were getting an open set shot on every possession, only settling for a floater after baiting an overzealous Warrior defender with a pump fake. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 34 points in the first half on 13-of-23 shooting.

Golden State looked out of sorts on offense as well, resorting to Kevin Durant isolation plays whenever he was matched up with a smaller defender. This played into the Spurs’ hands at times, as it limited ball movement and restrained the Warriors from establishing a rhythm on offense.

The Spurs led by 25 points with 7:05 left in the second quarter, their biggest lead of the game and the Warriors’ largest deficit this postseason. However, the Warriors ripped off 11 straight points over the next two minutes, culminating in a Curry corner three-pointer after stealing an in-bounds pass from former teammate David Lee. It was the loudest it had been in Oracle all season long, but Spurs Coach Greg Popovich calmly called a timeout, regrouped his team and pushed the lead back to 20 by halftime.

Steve Kerr gave the Warriors an encouraging speech during halftime, telling the team that they needed to find a balance between increasing the pace of the game while staying disciplined. “Get your poise back and just settle in on three stops in a row. If we can get three stops in a row, then the push, we will come from that and the pace will come from that,” Kerr said to his team. “Settle in and we’ll be alright.”

The Warriors responded to Kerr’s discourse.

“It’s always great to hear Coach Kerr's voice and get his perspective,” Curry said after the game. It’s actually a fresh perspective from somebody who is watching the game, so he sees a lot of different angles and he sees how things are developing from a broader perspective, so that’s obviously huge for us.”

While Golden State didn’t come out with their hair on fire as they so often do to start the third quarter, the game took a fortuitous turn in the Warriors’ favor just minutes into the second half. MVP candidate Leonard rolled his ankle after landing on Zaza Pachulia’s foot on a jump shot attempt. It was the same ankle that caused Leonard to miss Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets.

Leonard said after the game that he felt a lot of pain in his ankle and speculated that it was due in large part to tweaking it the series before. With only one off day between games, Leonard remained hopeful, saying, “We’ll see tomorrow and the next day to see how I’m feeling.” But by Monday morning, Spurs Coach Popovich reported that Leonard will, indeed, miss Game 2.

It is incredibly difficult for a team to lose a player of Leonard’s caliber mid-game and things were no different Sunday for the Spurs. After Leonard departed the game, the Warriors went on an 18-0 run, cutting the Spurs’ 23-point lead to just five in a matter of minutes to a deafening Oracle crowd.

It was at that point that the Warriors smelt blood, but the Spurs would not go down without a fight. Curry scored 19 of his game high 40 points in the third period as Golden State outscored San Antonio 39-28.

It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that the Warriors finally took the lead on a Kevin Durant jumper. Durant, who finished with 34 points and 4 blocks, took turns sharing the scoring load with Curry throughout much of the fourth quarter.

Klay Thompson remained quiet on the offensive end, recording just six points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field. Thompson, however, recorded the biggest assist of the night when he found Kevin Durant under the basket for an easy dunk with just 1:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. The basket broke a 106-106 tie and gave the Warriors the final lead of the game. While Thompson’s offensive woes continue, his defense remains stout as he recorded three steals and two blocks in 39 minutes.

The Warriors will take the win any way they can get it, and according to Draymond Green, Golden State’s shaky Game 1 start may have been a blessing in disguise.

“It was actually a perfect Game 1. You get punched in the mouth but yet you can still get the win,” Green said after the Warriors 111-109 win. “It’s a lot tougher in Game 2 when you win easily by 20 or 30 points, because then you usually have a letdown. Now we can come out in Game 2 on edge knowing how good this team is.”

“To play a great team like that and get punched in the mouth, now we can have our guard up and try to start off a little better,” Green continued. “That’ll be big for us.”

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