After dispatching the Brooklyn Nets with a lackluster performance on Tuesday night, the Warriors’ quest to run the table after the All-Star Game encountered a formidable challenge when the San Antonio Spurs came to Oracle Arena on Thursday night.
Though they would be without Kawhi Leonard and Pau Gasol, the Spurs still boast one of the league’s better defenses and a great head coach in Gregg Popovich. Though the Warriors would be short handed as well— playing without Andre Iguodala, David West, Jordan Bell, and Patrick McCaw—the talent disparity seemed too great as all signs pointed towards an easy Warriors victory.
Instead, we were treated to an excited and hard-fought game that came down to the final seconds. In the end, the Warriors pulled out the 110-107 victory to extend their winning streak to seven games as they also keep pace with the Houston Rockets in the race for the best record in the league.
Warriors lead after one quarter, but lose Curry to an ankle injury
Thursday night’s game got off to an inauspicious start in two regards for the Warriors. The first was that the Warriors were ice cold from the field. The Warriors missed their first twelve shots against the Spurs and could not find an offensive rhythm early on. It was clear from the beginning of the game that the Spurs’ game plan was to let Draymond Green shoot, as they played well off him when he had the ball. This strategy worked in the first quarter as Green missed both of his field-goal attempts.
The other thing that cast a pall over the game came early in the first as (brace yourselves) Stephen Curry went down with an ankle injury, turning his right ankle while driving towards the basket. After shooting his two free throws, Curry was subbed out of the game and would be done for the night.
After the game, Curry appeared to be (relatively) fine and in good spirits.
Stephen Curry (ankle) standing outside the Warriors lockeroom, high-giving and applauding his teammates as they come in after that comeback win over the Spurs. He's not hobbling. No extra tape on his ankle.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) March 9, 2018
Regular shoes, no boot, slight limp for Steph Curry postgame. Sprain obviously mild, the recurring nature of it a concern.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 9, 2018
While this injury does not appear to be particularly serious on its own, the recurrence of these ankle issues (both this season and over Curry’s entire career) is causing the Warriors to err on the side of caution. According to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater, Curry will stay in the Bay Area to rest and recuperate while the Warriors travel to Portland and Minnesota on a quick two-game road trip.
In spite of their cold-shooting and having Curry forced from the game with an injury, the Warriors still led at the end of the quarter, 28-21. Kevin Durant led the Warriors with nine points in the first quarter, while JaVale McGee scored four points in the first as he continues to flourish in his role as the Warriors’ starting center. McGee was so fired up after this dunk off of the great behind-the-back assist from Klay Thompson that he earned a technical, one that was deserved but also was well worth it.
McGee finished Thursday’s game with 13 points, his second game in a row with double-digit points. McGee also finished the game with seven rebounds and four blocks, providing good energy and effort on both ends of the court.
Another reason the Warriors were able to hold a seven-point advantage at the end of the first quarter was a 15-6 run after the game was tied at 13. One standout sequence from that Warriors’ run came when Omri Casspi, forced into minutes given the depleted nature of the Warriors’ bench, forced a bad Spurs shot and then threw down a surprisingly ferocious dunk.
Even after struggling through that cold-shooting stretch and losing Curry to injury, that the Warriors were still able to hold the lead seemed to bode well for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, that would not be the case.
Another sub-par second quarter for the Warriors
The Warriors pushed their lead to as much as 11 early in the second, doing so on this great find by Shaun Livingston, who rocketed the ball to Green for the easy dunk.
However, the Spurs provided a resounding answer for the Warriors in the second quarter, outscoring them 29-18 on their way to holding a four-point lead at halftime. LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for the Spurs, scoring eight of his fourteen first-half points in the second quarter. Davis Bertans contributed eight points in the quarter as well, including two three-pointers.
Durant led the Warriors with 14 points at the half, while McGee had 7 points and a struggling Thompson had just 4 while shooting 2/10 from the field. Even Durant’s 14 points came with a blemish as he was surprisingly inefficient, needing 14 shots to score those 14 points.
Between their shots not falling and their propensity to turn the ball over (all five of their first-half turnovers came in the second quarter), the Warriors lost control of this game as the short-handed Spurs were able to hold the upper hand at halftime.
Teams go back and forth but Spurs still lead at the end of three
Throughout this season, the Warriors have used impressive third quarter to overcome first half deficits. Against the Spurs, however, that would not be the case as they out scored the Warriors 37-32 to hold a nine-point lead after three quarter of play.
Leading the way once again was Aldridge, who scored ten more points in the third quarter, while Tony Parker scored seven of his 11 points in the third period.
There were some highlights for the Warriors in that third quarter. One of them came on this play, in which Green makes the steal on a Spurs’ outlet pass and then lobs the ball to McGee for the dunk.
McGee scored six points in the third quarter, while Nick Young came off of the bench and knocked down two three-pointers. After shooting just 9% from three-point range in the first half, the Warriors’ outside shooting improved in that third quarter as they shot 41.7% from three-point range.
With Thompson struggling (scoring just 13 points and going 5/16 from the field) and Curry out for the game, having Young come in off the bench to make some three-pointers was a very important offensive boost.
While the Warriors were able to cut into the Spurs’ lead throughout the third quarter, tying the game or getting it down to just a single-possession deficit, they couldn’t take that final step to actually get the lead.
The Spurs had an answer to every Warriors mini-run and it prevented them from getting back in the driver’s seat while the Spurs looked poised to pull away and get this impressive victory.
Fourth quarter domination by Durant earns the Warriors a victory
The bulk of the fourth quarter resembled the third quarter as the Warriors cut into the Spurs’ advantage only to see them respond and negate the Warriors’ gains. The Spurs held an eight-point lead with 4:44 left in the game, punctuated by a Dejounte Murray dunk. At that point, it looked like the game might have finally slipped away from the Warriors and they were on their way to their first loss after the All-Star break. But the Warriors were not finished yet, thanks primarily to Kevin Durant.
Durant scored 12 consecutive Warriors’ points after Murray’s dunk. Durant tied the game at 105 with two minutes left to go, capping an amazing stretch for him as he was able to get whatever he wanted and completely exerted his will over the game. You can see on this play how the Spurs had no answer for Durant when he was locked in like this, as he was able to get to the spot he wanted and take the shot he liked.
Durant finished Thursday night with a game-high 37 points, including 15 in that remarkable fourth quarter. After the game, Durant let everyone in on his mentality in the final minutes of Thursday night’s game.
Kevin Durant scored 15 in the final 7 minutes: "I told myself to empty the clip"— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 9, 2018
However, the Warriors reclaimed the lead on a basket not by Durant but rather one by Green. After a miscommunication with Livingston on a lob pass attempt, the ball caromed off the backboard and back to Green and he tossed the ball back up and in to give the Warriors the 107-105 lead.
It punctuated a great night for Green, one overshadowed by Durant’s offensive heroics. Green finished the game against the Spurs with a triple-double, scoring 11 points while grabbing 12 rebounds and handing out 10 assists. Green also tallied 3 steals and 2 blocks while posting a +/- of +17, reflecting his defensive contributions.
After claiming the lead, the Warriors’ defense came up with stops, including a good effort by Young while defending Aldridge in the post in the game’s final minutes. Aldridge finished with 30 points in Thursday night’s game, but scored just six points in the fourth quarter (which included two makes from the free-throw line on a very suspect foul call in the closing seconds).
Free throws from Thompson and Durant sealed the game as the Warriors earned the 110-107 victory, a hard-fought win over a tough opponent without their team leader, Curry. Things do not get a whole lot easier for the Warriors as they travel up to Portland to face the streaking Trail Blazers. But against the Spurs, the Warriors (and Durant in particular) showed just how tough and how great they can be.