The Golden State Warriors entered Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinals series having lost 29 straight road games to the San Antonio Spurs. That run of futility covers many games over many different seasons, with various coaches and players employing different approaches to try to grab a win. That streak is not a mark on the Warriors as a franchise — it does, however, prove just how difficult it has been to beat the Spurs in the time that Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan have led the team. On Monday night, the Warriors found out just how tough it can be yet again.
After blowing a 16-point lead over the last 4:31 of regulation to allow San Antonio to take the game to overtime, Golden State soldiered through two overtimes to have a chance to win. With the Spurs up 126-125 and 10 seconds left in the second extra period, the Warriors turned a missed Tony Parker lay-up into a 3-on-2 fast break that culminated in Stephen Curry (who played all but four seconds of the game's 58 minutes) finding little-used rookie Kent Bazemore for a streaking lay-up with 3.9 seconds remaining. It was a shocking moment, one in which a player best known for his explosive bench celebrations brought his team within a few ticks of the clock of escaping a very rough defeat.
It wasn't to be. Following a Spurs timeout, Kawhi Leonard found a wide-open Manu Ginobili off the inbounds pass to bury a three-pointer from the left wing to give his team a two-point lead. The Warriors could only manage an off-balance Jarrett Jack three-pointer on the ensuing possession, and the Spurs came away with a crazy 129-127 win. It was another great playoff moment in Ginobili's Hall-of-Fame career, particularly after going 4-of-19 from the field the rest of the game and missing a potential game-winner at the end of the first overtime.
Yet this finish was only one part of a wildly entertaining, up-and-down contest. Join us after the jump for the bigger picture of what went down, including analysis of just how Ginobili got so open on his winning shot, the Danny Green three-pointer that sent the game to overtime, and the Warriors' third-quarter run that built up their lead in the first place.
There is no good reason to leave open a player of Manu Ginobili's caliber on the last defensive possession of the game. However, a closer look at the video shows where the Warriors went wrong. As Ginobili and Parker crossed paths near the elbow, Harrison Barnes followed Parker around the screen, isolating Bazemore on Ginobili. At the same time, Boris Diaw ran to the paint, which required Bazemore to leave Ginobili and guard against a wide-open lay-up. Although he left Ginobili open, this was the correct play. The error was in both Barnes and Jack covering Parker, with Jack looking particularly mistaken in that he covered an empty space between Parker and Leonard. It was a smart play by Popovich, but it also looks as if the Warriors had little sense of how to make their rotations.
This general sense of uncertainty in key moments was a trend. Over the last 4:31 of regulation, the Spurs went on an 18-2 run (available to view above), with Danny Green's three-pointer with 20.8 seconds on the clock sending the game to overtime. Jack also appeared to be at fault on that play, failing to switch onto Green as Curry left him to cover Leonard in the paint. And while it's possible that Curry was mistaken in switching — even if Barnes and Bazemore switched on a high screen, which would seem to be the team's plan — it's clear that someone didn't understand his responsibilities on the Spurs' two biggest shots of the game. That's a lapse in communication, either between players or between the coaching staff and their roster.
The Spurs' run also did not flatter the Warriors. Throughout that stretch, Golden State settled for long, contested jumpers, dribbling the ball for long stretches and going to questionable plays (such as Carl Landry in the post in the final minute) in key moments. In general, they looked like a team without any good answers to the Spurs' excellence. While any 18-2 run is by definition improbable and dependent on some amount of luck, the Warriors appeared content to watch the Spurs power back without any reasonable response. This take isn't meant to diminish what the Spurs did — they're a professional group that never lets the size of a lead cause them to give up on the game. It's just that they didn't appear to have much resistance in the final minutes. Perhaps they missed the fouled-out Klay Thompson, maybe they were befuddled by the same pressure that caused them to forget how to hold on to the ball in the final minutes of their Game 6 win over the Denver Nuggets.
Frankly, the Warriors looked like the better team for the vast majority of the game. After staking out a 53-49 halftime lead, Golden State exploded for a 39-point third quarter in which Curry scored or assisted on 30 points. It was also his second 22-point third quarter of the postseason. (In retrospect, his terrific play might have convinced Mark Jackson to leave him in through several planned rests, thereby draining him of energy he seemed to lack in overtime.) They were more active, had more scoring weapons, and appeared convinced that they could pull off an upset virtually no one predicted when the matchup was set last week.
As we know, that all changed over the last portion of the fourth quarter. And while the Warriors' play in the rest of the game gives them reason to think they can still win this series, it's hard to shake the feeling that this was their best shot at taking a game in San Antonio. The Spurs typically don't give teams multiple chances to steal games, and the Warriors were good enough in this one to win. Their ability to get past that heartbreak could define their playoff fate.
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