The Golden State Warriors played brilliant basketball for three and a half quarters on Monday night, but as so often happens at this time of year, it proved true that anything short of the full 48 minutes just isn’t good enough.
I said in praising the Warriors for their first round victory over the Denver Nuggets that they wouldn’t be able to make the mistakes down the stretch that they did in round one because the Spurs won’t struggle to hit shots in clutch moments the way Denver did. Sure enough, that prediction came to fruition right out of the gate in game one.
Stephen Curry’s flare for third quarter brilliance saw him once again blow up for 22 points in the quarter while leading the Warriors into the fourth with an 18 point lead. But of course, Gregg Popavich made an adjustment on the fly that would slow Curry down, putting Kawhi Leonard on the star guard. He scored just six points in the final period.
That slowed down Golden State’s offense significantly, but nothing had a bigger impact than Klay Thompson fouling out of the game with four minutes remaining. Thompson had provided the Warriors with 19 points and 5 rebounds and departed the game with the team clinging to a 16 point lead.
Almost immediately after Thompson took his seat on the bench for the night, the Spurs began a run that would see them eventually tie the game at 106 on a Danny Green three pointer. After overcoming the massive deficit, all the momentum was in favor of the Spurs and Golden State never stood a chance.
They battled well, even managing to survive the first overtime thanks to a big bucket from Jarrett Jack once again, but by that point in the game, the Warriors were very visibly exhausted. They had no legs to squabble for rebounds and were rarely able to push the ball up the floor. Falling behind by five with a minute to go though, Golden State showed no quit in their game.
The Warriors went on a quick 6-0 run capped by a reverse lay in by Kent Bazemore after a Curry steal to take a one point lead. But it was a collapse on the defensive end that would cost them as they left Manu Ginobili wide open for the game winning three. It was the kind of mistake a young team makes when they get tired and their having trouble closing out a game. It was the kind of break down that proves costly every time in the postseason, a lesson they had to learn the hard way it seems.
But don’t expect that to break the Warriors spirits. If anything, their resolve will be even stronger now given their first round experience according to Curry.
"We had a heartbreaker in Game 1 of the last series (against Denver)," Curry said to reporters afterword. "A last-second layup by Andre Miller. So we've been here before. But we know how to come back. We've been a resilient team all year. To have an opportunity to go 1-1, we still have a chance to do that."
Against San Antonio, there are the moments that make or break you. The Spurs are well trained, regimented in pressure cooker situations. They don’t often miss and for no moment until the final buzzer sounds are the Spurs out of a game. These are facts that will be painfully etched in the minds of every Warriors player for the rest of this series. But now they know. They know the level they have to rise to in order to succeed and in truth, their performance set down a marker to show that they can.
The Warriors beat up San Antonio in the paint outscoring them 52-42 and outrebounded them 55-45. That is something that Popavich will look to address, but if Golden State can repeat it in game two, have all the other pieces come together and make plays on the defensive end in crunch time, then they’ll have a few more surprises for us in the bag before this one is over.