After a Game 2 beatdown at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said he was disappointed with his team’s effort after losing superstar forward Kawhi Leonard, and that come “Game 3, I expect to see a different team.” He got what he expected on Saturday night. It just didn’t matter.
“I thought they did a great job. They competed really well. Couldn’t ask any more from them, competitiveness-wise,” Popovich told reporters after Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. “You know, every time you look up, you’re playing against four All-Stars, so you better be pretty perfect. We turned the ball over too much, and we’ve got to make some more shots, but … you know … it’s a hell of a team.”
The Spurs are, too. Or, at least, they were, before Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker went down, leaving San Antonio without its top two creators against the postseason’s best defense and its top perimeter defender against the league’s best collection of perimeter talent. Ever since the third quarter of Game 1, though, the table’s been tilted, and the Warriors continued to take advantage on Saturday, weathering foul trouble, sloppy turnovers and an energetic start by the still-Leonard-less Spurs in a 120-108 win.
After notching its record-tying 11th straight win to start the 2017 postseason, Golden State now holds a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. The Warriors can finish off the Spurs, and advance to their third straight NBA Finals, at AT&T Center in San Antonio in Game 4 on Monday night at 9 p.m. ET.
Despite the 120 points and the double-digit victory, this wasn’t the kind of dominant performance that Golden State has frequently turned in this postseason, and that was on full view in Game 2. The Warriors committed 21 turnovers leading to 25 Spurs points, allowed two separate 33-point quarters to a team without its two best offensive players, and gave up 62 points in the paint and 23 points on the fast break.
“Got a little sloppy for us, especially at the beginning,” acting head coach Mike Brown told reporters after the game. “We always talk about winning the possession game, and if we do, we’re going to give ourselves a good chance to win. Late in the game, it was sloppy for us, and early in the game, it was sloppy for us, but we found ways throughout the course to go on runs.”
They found ways because, unlike the depleted Spurs, the Warriors have superstars to which they can turn when the run of play gets mucked up.
Kevin Durant led five Warriors in double figures with 33 points, 19 of which came in a dominant third quarter that snuffed out the Spurs’ best chance of staying close after intermission. Durant added 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in 38 minutes in the win.
“We didn’t do anything tricky. He got hot,” Brown said. “We just wanted to keep him in the middle of the floor, attacking downhill and in pick-and-roll situations, and that’s what we did. As the quarter went along, we started to slow down with our pace a little bit, but other than that, he was terrific. He made the right play every time down the floor, and obviously, he made shots. He is who he is.”
“I feel like I can make every shot I shoot, because I shoot good ones and I try to get to my spots,” Durant said after the game. “So when they called my number, I just tried to go out there and be aggressive.”
Despite fighting foul trouble for much of the first half, Stephen Curry added 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting with six steals, five rebounds and three assists. Backcourt partner Klay Thompson chipped in 17 points and six boards, while Draymond Green had 10 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and a steal.
With center Zaza Pachulia sidelined by a bruised right heel, head coach Steve Kerr — who’s still unable to coach the Warriors as he battles pain stemming from a 2015 back surgery, but who traveled with the team to San Antonio and reportedly addressed them at halftime — recommended that Brown start JaVale McGee in the middle. The resurgent reserve responded with a tremendous start to the game, outworking Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge and relentlessly attacking the rim to the tune of 16 first-half points on 6-for-8 shooting. (He’d finish with 16, too, playing just one minute in the second half.)
“[JaVale] was ready tonight,” Curry said during his post-game press conference. “Knew he had an opportunity, obviously, to impact the game from the starting lineup, and him putting pressure on the rim for us with the shooters we have around is a great weapon. He understands his importance when he’s out there on the floor. And defensively, he was smart on LaMarcus, just trying to make him work, challenge shots, protect the rim. He gave us a great boost, great energy, and we got a lot of easy baskets through him to start the game, and was able to get a rhythm.”
With McGee taking advantage of the attention the Spurs had to pay to the rest of the Warriors’ star-studded core, and Aldridge struggling to get untracked, Golden State jumped out to a seven-point lead with five minutes to go in the opening period. The Spurs raced back behind a strong spurt from its second unit, though, riding hot shooting from the Manu Ginobili-Patty Mills backcourt and some spirited interior play from ex-Warriors big man David Lee to close the quarter on a 19-8 run and take a 33-29 lead into the second quarter.
Even after losing Lee to a left knee injury late in the first, the Spurs continued to battle in the second, with Simmons attacking off the bounce and Thompson finding his stroke after a slow offensive start to a series spent mostly chasing around the smaller, quicker Mills. Durant took over late in the quarter, though, scoring eight points on four shots as the Warriors ripped off a 14-2 run to take control before a quick Manu-fueled burst got the Spurs back within hailing distance, 64-55, at halftime.
The Spurs made their last big push early in the third. Aldridge finally answered the bell following a sluggish first half with seven quick points, and Simmons drilled a midrange pull-up jumper to draw within three, 74-71, with 8:07 to go in the frame. But then, again, Durant took over.
The 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player teamed with reserve big man David West to torch the Spurs defense in the high pick-and-roll and the two-man game in the third quarter, repeatedly getting to the rim, to the line, or to a comfortable spot for a jumper over the top of a defender who couldn’t credibly contest him. He scored 16 straight Warriors points in a three-minute stretch, turning a squeaker into an 18-point Golden State lead.
“KD got hot in the moment when we had a chance,” Ginobili said after the game.
“The run he had in the third was a clinic of scoring the basketball,” Curry said. “He got in the paint, finished around the rim. Hit a tough fadeaway, a one-footer. Was in pick-and-roll situations a lot, able to play-make and create his own shot. He really answered the bell in that moment for us, and at that point, it’s just like anybody who gets the hot hand: give him the ball and get out of the way, and let him do what he does.”
Still, the Spurs refused to go away, clawing back within eight points with nine minutes left in regulation after a couple of interior buckets by Aldridge and Pau Gasol. From there, though, the Warriors slammed the door.
A 10-0 run in less than two minutes of game time pushed the lead back to 18 — too big a late-game deficit for a Spurs team that just doesn’t have the horses.
“We knew we were going to be able to bounce back, at least emotionally, today and play a better game,” said Ginobili, who brought back a little bit of his old magic in a game the Spurs needed, scoring a team-high 21 points on 7-for-9 shooting in 18 minutes off the bench. “The fact is that it is just too tough. We are missing Kawhi’s offense and defense in this series, and of course Tony.”
They’re also missing Aldridge. In Game 2, the power forward often passed up shots in favor of trying to move the ball to teammates when he was being double-teamed — a tack that Aldridge later conceded was “the wrong approach,” as it threw both him individually and the Spurs collectively out of their rhythm. After Aldridge’s disappointing performance, Popovich called on the five-time All-Star to come out in Game 3 and do what he does best, because that’s what the Spurs need most, especially with Leonard out of the lineup.
“LaMarcus has got to score for us,” Popovich said after Game 2. “He can’t be timid. He turned down shots in the first quarter. He can’t do it. He’s got to score. You know, scoring’s got to come from someplace, and I think he’s got a major responsibility in Game 3 to come out and to get something done, whether it’s for himself or teammates — if they come after him, to find somebody, to not turn it over, to get us good shots, to take shots when they’re open. He’s got to do it. No doubt about it.”
After scoring just six points on 3-for-9 shooting in the first half and looking uncomfortable against the defense of McGee and Green, Aldridge came on a bit in the second half to finish with 18 points on 7-for-17 shooting with five rebounds, two blocks and an assist. The Warriors outscored San Antonio by 27 points in Aldridge’s 28 minutes, far and away the worst mark of any Spur.
Asked whether he got what he was looking for out of Aldridge in Game 3, Pop offered a terse, one-word response …
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) May 21, 2017
… before ending his interview.
Without their best player and veteran floor general, as evidenced in the last two games, San Antonio’s margin for error in this series doesn’t exist. For the Spurs to extend their season, they’ll need to be their best selves … and then, to get some help.
“Hope to be more attentive to details. Less mistakes, less turnovers, and hopefully more inspired offensively, also,” Ginobili said. “[…] For us to win, we have to play at a 10 level, and they have to play at a seven. We have to try to make them play at a seven, and play our best game.”
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