Golden State Warriors 116, San Antonio Spurs 106: Steph’s explosion trumps Spurs bench

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In case you forgot what Gary Neal is capable of doing, tonight was a reminder.

The most polarizing player on the Spurs’ roster put on a show as the leader of the San Antonio Summer League squad that took the floor. And despite what you’ll read on Twitter, the not-just-a-three-point-shooter scored like the player who broke out during his rookie season.

Still. Once Stephen Curry found his own rhythm, it didn’t matter anymore.

The former Davidson superstar absolutely blew his top in the second half — especially during a 27-12 run in the fourth quarter — on his way to 35 points in the game, and Golden State pulled away from a wildly undermanned San Antonio squad, 116-106, to inch closer to the sixth seed in the Western Conference; one spot away from a matchup with the Spurs in the first round. Once Curry got going, this one was over, but it was the outside influences that normally spell the Big 3 that  San Antonio loved seeing step up at a time when bench production was much-needed.

The “eye test” has become an obsolete form of measurement in today’s world of advanced statistics, but when Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw (and Stephen Jackson) aren’t playing, sometimes you’re resigned to nothing more than what meets your plane of sight.

Between Neal’s scoring output and the 23 points Patty Mills poured in (remember, Mills went for 34 and 12 assists on this court in the final game of last season), the Spurs’ spark-plugs ignited some energy into a San Antonio attack that has been lacking burst since Parker’s original ankle injury. It fell apart during the final frame, but it was against a team fighting for seeding in the upcoming playoffs, something that isn’t concerning the Spurs at this point.

It’s not some overly optimistic approach, as the same issues we talked about last night are still consuming this group. But we haven’t seen a performance like this from the bench in quite some time. If this can somehow become a trend, San Antonio has taken a giant step back in the right direction.

This second unit has had some memorable performances this season — in Miami in November and against Chicago during the Rodeo Road Trip — but given the timing and the circumstances surrounding the Spurs, it brings back memories, to some degree, of a matchup with the Dallas Mavericks in late January of last year. The situation obviously isn’t the same as that 101-100 Mavs win, but that game was a turning point in San Antonio’s 2011-12 campaign. The bench woke up and never crashed throughout the Spring.

And if there’s a telling sign of Neal’s importance, it was Gregg Popovich’s decision to not play him during the final 8:55 of the fourth quarter. He had seen enough of what his wild-card could provide and opted to sit him down next to the rest of the Spurs’ wounded as the final minutes wound down. It’s an interesting omen as San Antonio continues to work every second to get its injured stars back on the floor. Now, if those other guys can just return from injury so turning to Neal isn’t a necessary decision.

The narrative hasn’t changed much from last night, but the Spurs’ shortened rotation responded against the Warriors for the most part. Given the recent struggles, watching this group score and defend as well as it possibly could have — for three quarters, at least — was a good sight. If Neal does indeed have his health back, his presence could be a major factor one way or the other with the uncertain status of Ginobili’s right hamstring.

Really, this team just needed something to feel good about. Despite the loss, there’s certainly more reason for optimism.

At least more than there was when the Spurs left Staples Center.

  • assistman

    Gary “one way or the other” Neal.

    All season long it’s been hard for me to fully respect Pop’s preference for system play at the expense of Mills.

    Gotta wonder if Houston wants to avoid us bad enough to gut out a win in tinselville, or if they’d prefer to take us on in our current state? I do think, that given their youth, an intense playoff-type game has got to appeal to McHale as a great primer.

  • assistman

    I just realized GSW is playing the totally tanking Blazers and are guaranteed that final win. So whether or not HOU wins their last game, they’ll be coming for us.

  • naughty by nurture

    Danny Green is the most unathletic starting SG in the NBA in quite some time. I give him credit for working really hard on defense, but his offense is so limited. He moves like a 6’6″ high school center!

  • dfjjb

    I’m really concerned heading into the play-offs. Despite the way this unit hung in there last night, I feel like our lack of size at the two guard and our lack of depth at the SF is going to be our downfall. Watching Cory Joseph getting posted up on the switch is a preview of what teams will do when we go really small. I haven’t once seen a small line up match up well and hold or extend a lead.

  • Tim in Surrey

    If the Lakers beat Houston, they’ll have the tiebreaker and will be the #7 seed with Houston falling to #8. The Rockets really should’ve beaten the Suns last night…

  • Len

    Good. I WANT the Spurs to take on the Lakers. The Spurs need an emotional series to wake them up.

  • Len

    Fook the Lakers. The Spurs can’t expect to coast into the WCF and just suddenly beat the Thunder. They need a tough series to galvanize them. I’m disgusted right now with the Spurs performances. If they can’t beat this abysmal Laker squad, they don’t deserve anything.

    Bring those fake @ss purple and gold wearing punks on.

  • NYC

    I agree. Bring on the Lakers. Last year we swept the first two rounds and all that rest didn’t do us much good in the WCF. I say we need the competition to wake us up and not take things for granted. (Taking Houston and Harden for granted would be a big mistake. Remember that guy and what he did to us last year?) If we can’t beat the Lakers now, there’s no hope for us against OKC/Miami anyway, and there’s no hope in the years to come, if Howard stays in LA.

  • SargeSmash

    Spurs are signing T-Mac? Interesting.

  • assistman

    Sorry, but this team doesn’t stand much of chance against OKC anyway, and everybody in the West is playing for the silver medal, MIA can’t be beat by any of us. They are too deep, and too talented at the top.

    One thing that is funny… you know the inured #24 is secretly rooting AGAINST his team going deep WITHOUT him. ‘Cause he’s been carrying those guys by himself, right? Right? He’s the REAL MVP of this league, right? Right?

  • Graham

    Fortunately the odds of us throwing out a small lineup in the playoffs drop dramatically. Kawhi’s going 40+, and Green is a servicable small Forward for a handful of possessions a game.

  • Graham

    Well I guess we have our backup 3 now, heh. Certainly could do a lot worse.