After the Golden State Warriors' come-from-behind Game 4 win over the San Antonio Spurs to even up their Western Conference semifinals series at 2-2, the primary narrative of the moment focused on the health, determination and near-future outlook of Stephen Curry. The 25-year-old marksman frequently looked far less than 100 percent on Sunday after suffering a left ankle sprain late in Friday's Game 3, gritting and bearing it after a pregame anti-inflammatory injection in his ankle — his third of this postseason run, by the way — to score 22 points on 7 for 15 shooting, including a 5 for 10 mark from 3-point range, to go with six rebounds, four assists and two turnovers in nearly 39 minutes.
Combine the "play through pain to lead the troops" element with the "I was motivated by Mom" angle, which was pitch-perfect for Mother's Day, and of course that was the story. But it was only part of the story, really. Spurs guard Manu Ginobili knows that, and he said so after Game 4.
"We had them where we wanted, and we blew it," he said. "It kind of hurts. We had a great opportunity.”
Sure, it's not quite as romantic as the Warriors' against-all-odds-we-find-a-way arc, but it's a pretty spot-on descriptor of a game the Spurs led by eight points with less than five minutes remaining and still lost.
The Spurs had been playing with fire all afternoon — while they held an 80-72 lead after a Kawhi Leonard putback at the 4:49 mark of the fourth, they'd missed nine free throws, gone just 6 for 19 from 3-point range, and given the similarly cold-shooting Warriors too many shots at extra possessions by failing to clear the defensive glass, allowing 16 offensive rebounds to that point. They'd been able to get clear thanks in part to a brilliant start by Ginobili (11 first-quarter points on 4 for 5 shooting and a perfect 3 for 3 from deep), but he and the rest of his teammates had cooled considerably since, and it only got worse down the stretch.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Spurs missed 12 of 14 shots during “clutch time" — less than five minutes remaining, score within five points — in Game 4, with the big three of Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker (who was limited somewhat Sunday by his own injury concerns after suffering a bruised left calf in Game 3) went 1 for 10 in the "clutch."
They had some help, of course. Duncan's typical low-block brilliance hit an absolute wall in the defense of Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who came back from early foul trouble to dominate the glass (18 rebounds in 28 minutes) and shut Duncan down in the final few minutes, including on a pivotal post-up with 1:20 left on which Bogut bodied the Spurs legend up, muscled him away from the rim, blocked one attempt and played textbook positional defense on a follow-up to keep the Warriors within two points:
Warriors wings Jarrett Jack, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes helped, too, working to harass Parker and Ginobili into contested looks late. But sometimes, they got clear chances, like when Ginobili stepped back and put Barnes on the deck with the score tied at 84 and 20 seconds left:
... but those, too, went missing. And it only got worse when the game went to an extra session.
"In overtime, we just stopped scoring,” Ginobili said. “We kept running our same plays and they didn't fall. They just made every shot."
Well, not every shot — Golden State went 4 for 9 in overtime, actually — but compared to the Spurs' unshakeable cold snap, you can understand why it felt that way. The Spurs missed their first seven shots of overtime, going scoreless for the first 3:31 of the five-minute period and falling behind by nine points after a three-point play by Curry that effectively sealed matters.
Credit, certainly, goes to a Warriors team that did what needed to be done to win — Barnes fought through early shooting woes to grind out a game-high 26 points and 10 rebounds; Jack provided much-needed scoring punch at an absolutely critical juncture with six straight points late in the fourth to chop down that eight-point San Antonio lead; Bogut was a monster in the defensive paint; etc. But blame, too, goes to a Spurs squad that, even when presented with opportunities to shut the door on the surging Dubs, was unable to do so.
"They made some shots. You make shots, you win," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. "We didn't make our free throws. And I don't think I'll be able to watch the film and come up with an answer for you of why we missed our free throws."
Miss 60 shots, 20 3-pointers and 11 free throws, and you're probably going to lose. It's not an especially sexy or complicated narrative, but sometimes, that's what you're left with.
Luckily, that's not all the Spurs are left with — as Matthew Tynan notes at Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell, after a historically poor Game 4 shooting performance that put San Antonio at just 38 percent from the field through four semifinal games, the Spurs "remain tied with two of the three potential remaining games on their home floor. Keeping those numbers in mind, you’ll take it." Whether the Spurs can continue to take it much longer, though, remains to be seen.