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