For several minutes of Game 2 of their Western Conference Semifinals series against the San Antonio Spurs, it looked as if the Golden State Warriors were headed for a repeat of a devastating Game 1 loss that included blowing a double-digit fourth-quarter lead. After building a 62-43 halftime lead on the strength of a burning-hot performance from Klay Thompson (29 points in the half, including seven three-pointers), Golden State let the game get away once again in the second half. From the 3:49 to 1:23 marks of the third quarter, the Spurs went on a 14-2 run to cut the deficit 19 to seven points. They looked headed for disaster.
Except they didn't. The Warriors scored six points in the last 67 seconds the period (including a huge Thompson three-pointer at the buzzer) to bring the lead back up to 11. And while the Spurs managed to cut the lead to six points within the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, they never got closer over the rest of the game. It wasn't always pretty, but the Warriors managed to make enough plays late to come out on top 100-91 in the franchise's first win in San Antonio since Valentine's Day 1997. The series is now tied at 1-1 as the action shifts to what should be a raucous Oracle Arena for Games 3 and 4.
Join us after the jump for more analysis of the game and the issues at play in the rest of the series.
Their ability to withstand the Spurs' comeback was not necessarily a matter of proper offensive execution. Although the Warriors did get big baskets in clutch moments from Jack and Stephen Curry, they were not necessarily good looks or products of the team identifying their ideal shots and doing whatever they could to get to those spots. Golden State still looks like a team with an unclear idea of the kinds of shots they want to get in crunch time, and that's a problem to solve moving forward.
However, their defensive effort in the second half deserves major credit. After a 29-point third quarter full of open looks, the Spurs managed only 19 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field. To be sure, they missed some good shots —particularly corner threes — that very easily could have gone in and changed the complexion of the game. However, San Antonio also looked like a team having a very difficult time inflicting its will upon the game. The Warriors challenged shots at the rim, closed out decently enough to disrupt jump-shooters, and generally appeared more organized defensively than their opponents were offensively. Despite their status as overwhelming favorites in the series, the Spurs seemed to depend less on their ability to win the game than the Warriors' willingness to lose it.
That relationship has defined the majority of the series to date. Outside of their major second-half runs, the Spurs have been fairly mediocre. While Game 1 will be remembered for their extremely impressive comeback, they didn't exactly control either overtime period and even got beat down the court on what was almost the game-winning fast break on the penultimate possession. On top of that, their inside combo of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter appears far less effective against a team that plays as small as the Warriors. Oh, and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are shooting 37.3 percent from the field (28-of-75) in the series. The Spurs are far from done in this series — in fact, I think they'll split the next two on the road — but it's easy to see how they've been made uncomfortable in these two games.
The Warriors, meanwhile, look like a team that could pull of an improbable upset if they'd only limit the severity of the Spurs' runs as their happening, not after the fact. Their 34-point second quarter, led by the scalding Thompson, was a thing of beauty, an example of a quicker team keeping their opponent off balance with dribble-drives and exploiting the gaps for open jumpers. Their amazing outside shooting (11-of-23 in Game 2, including 8-of-9 from Thompson) could revert to the mean any time now, but they've also shot well enough during their eight postseason games that it might be best to assume they'll continue this form. At the very least, there's no reason for them to change their strategy. If they're going to win, they'll do it by hitting as many outside shots as they can.
We'll have plenty of time to dissect Game 3 before tip-off Friday night, but it's fair to say that this series is about to get even more fascinating. Oracle Arena is one of the loudest buildings in the league, a place where the Warriors have good reason to feel comfortable and ready to take on anyone. On the other hand, the Spurs are more experienced than any other team and the most likely not to let that atmosphere affect their performance.
The question, of course, is if they can avoid needing furious second-half runs to win. In Game 2, the Warriors gave the Spurs reason to believe that they won't be able to count on any more collapses.