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After losing Saturday to fall into an 0-3 hole in the 2017 Western Conference finals, Manu Ginobili offered a simple and plain assessment of what his San Antonio Spurs needed to be able to extend their season by taking a game off the full-strength-and-rampaging Golden State Warriors.
“The fact is that it is just too tough. We are missing Kawhi’s offense and defense in this series, and of course Tony,” 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.”
Neither happened on Monday night in San Antonio.
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant sliced and diced a San Antonio defense missing its premier perimeter stopper. The Spurs once again struggled to generate consistent scoring opportunities without their primary offensive engines. The Warriors took control of Game 4 early and never let go, shrugging off the last best shot of a determined but outgunned Spurs team and cruising to a 129-115 closeout win. For the third straight year, Golden State has won the Western Conference and advanced to the NBA Finals.
Curry led all scorers with 36 points on 14-for-24 shooting to go with six assists and five rebounds in the win, continuing a brilliant postseason run that has somewhat quietly seen him incinerate defenses like the unanimous NBA Most Valuable Player he was a season ago.
Durant was the picture of efficiency, pouring in 29 points on 10-for-13 shooting while pulling down 11 rebounds, dishing four assists and delivering one hell of a highlight-reel block on Spurs rookie Dejounte Murray. After missing all of March with an MCL sprain and coming back with only three games left in the regular season, and sitting out two games in the opening round with a calf strain, he too looks completely healthy, as dominant as ever, and very eager to make his return to the Finals five years after his Oklahoma City Thunder fell to LeBron James’ Miami Heat.
Draymond Green delivered his now-customary stat-sheet stuffing (16 points on 10 shots, eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals) and everywhere-at-once team defense. Andre Iguodala (seven points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals off the bench) began to find his form late in the game after seeming sluggish and battling injury for most of the series. With the exception of Klay Thompson’s continued offensive struggles (3-for-13 from the floor) and persistent sloppiness with the ball (17 turnovers, 11 coming from Steph and KD, leading to 24 Spurs points), this was the Warriors firing on all cylinders, taking care of business and looking extremely ready to wipe the sour taste of the conclusion of last season out of their mouths.
“They don’t just play with talent,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the Warriors during his post-game press conference. “They execute at the defensive end of the floor. On offense, no team is more unselfish, you know, finding the open man and that sort of thing, and they get credit for that. Coaches are always trying to get their team to do that, but they’ve got a multitude of people who are unselfish in that regard and play a beautiful game, and on top of that, play D at the other end. They deserve a lot more credit than, ‘Well, they’re talented. They’re supposed to win.’ That is disrespectful to them, in my book. They’re way, way more than just their talent.”
Forced again to take the court without superstar forward Kawhi Leonard, who missed his third straight game after suffering a sprained left ankle in the third quarter of Game 1 of the series, Popovich again shuffled his starting lineup in search of a season-prolonging spark. As he’s done so many times over the last 15 years, he looked down his bench and reached for Ginobili, his legendary Argentine sixth man, to slide into the starting lineup.
It might not necessarily have had the intended effect — the Spurs opened up just 3-for-19 from the field, thanks to a combination of excellent Golden State defense and plain ol’ missed shots, and never recovered — but that scarcely seemed to matter. ESPN’s Doris Burke said during Game 4 that Popovich told her he “did not know definitively if this would be [Ginobili’s] last year, but in case it is, he wanted to thank him [by starting him] and honor him, and show him the respect for being one of the most selfless guys he’s ever coached.”
In his first start in more than three years, the future Hall of Famer gave everything he had, finishing with 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting with seven assists and three steals in 32 minutes of work before subbing out with just under 2 1/2 minutes left in the fourth to a standing ovation from the adoring crowd at AT&T Center.
Forward Kyle Anderson led San Antonio with 20 points in 27 minutes off the bench, but the Spurs just didn’t have the firepower to go bucket-for-bucket with the league’s best offense or the wherewithal to slow it down.
The Spurs’ last lead was 4-2. They trailed by double figures for the bulk of the final three quarters. And when they made their last big push, cutting the Warriors’ lead to 10 points on a jumper by little-used guard Bryn Forbes that made it 85-75 with 2:49 left in the third quarter, Golden State responded with a casual string of buckets — a Durant jumper, a Draymond 3, a Steph 3, and a Curry drive for a pair of free throws — that pushed the lead back to 20 less than two minutes later.
LaMarcus Aldridge capped a disappointing series with eight points on 4-for-11 shooting. Patty Mills, of whom much was asked after Parker suffered his season-ending quad injury, again struggled to shake loose of the defense of Thompson, scoring 14 points on 4-for-13 shooting. Jonathon Simmons, a revelation earlier in the series who likely made himself a ton of money in restricted free agency with his play in place of the injured Leonard, added 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
In wrapping up their third straight sweep of this playoff run, the Warriors improved to 12-0, topping the 1989 and 2001 Los Angeles Lakers for the longest winning streak to open a single postseason. They now await the winner of the Eastern Conference finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. Cleveland — the team the Warriors beat to win the 2015 NBA championship and to whom Golden State lost the 2016 title, and the opponent everyone in the NBA-watching world has expected to see standing across the ring from the Dubs come June — leads that series 2-1.
“I mean, obviously, [the Cavs have] got some work to do to get there,” Curry told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt during a post-game interview. “We’ll be watching the rest of that series. But there is, you know, a flair to that potential matchup. We’ve done our part, and now we can sit and wait and watch, and see what happens.”
They’ll be waiting awhile; Game 1 of the Finals won’t happen until June 1. When it does tip off, though, it’ll do so at Oracle Arena, hosted by a team featuring the most fearsome collection of offensive talent in the league — one that has outscored its postseason opposition by more points than any team ever has entering the championship round, one that also comes attached to the stingiest defense in the playoffs, and one that has gone 27-1 since March 11 — and that is awaiting with bated breath the opportunity to keep its historic dominance rolling in pursuit of a second title in three years.
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