San Antonio Spurs 129, Golden State Warriors 127: What. The. Hell.
AT&T CENTER — Over the course of each season, I watch a lot of basketball games. Covering the Spurs, I go to a lot of basketball games. On a normal night, it’s exactly what you’d expect. There are a lot of runs, one team exploits the other’s weaknesses and the game ends about how you’d think.
It’s fun, but the season can drag on. You have to suffer through January home games on Friday or Saturday nights against teams like the Kings (no offense, Cowbell Kingdom friends). A lot of those nights can feel the same and it’s hard to get out of the rut. I’ve told myself often that I don’t want to get jaded as I’m in this game longer and longer; this was my third full season covering the Spurs.
But every now and then something special comes along. Not just a game with a high scorer and play-by-play statistics, a winner and a loser. Eventually, it’s not a game that you cover, but an experience. That was the Spurs’ 129-127 double overtime Game 1 win over the Golden State Warriors was on Monday night. It was a full-blown experience.
I watched as Stephen Curry spent an entire quater playing Pop-A-Shot against the Spurs defense, scoring 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the third period. Every shot seemed to scrape the underside of the AT&T Center jumbotron before settling comfortably in the net. What made watching Curry shoot feel like a religious experience wasn’t that he was making them, it was that 18,581 fans, three officials and nine other players on the floor could do nothing to stop him. Curry might as well have been on the floor by himself.
Curry’s fireworks display helped the Warriors push their lead, which they held steady throughout most of the game, to as many as 18 points in the third quarter. The show that Stephen Curry put on for most of the second half would’ve been enough to make this game stand out from the rest. It’s not often you get to see a shooting savant completely in his element.
Jarrett Jack hit two free throws with 4:31 left in the game and the fans streamed out of the AT&T Center. Could you blame them? Not only could the Spurs not force a missed shot from Golden State, San Antonio couldn’t buy a bucket on their own end, shooting 37 percent from the floor to that point.
Eventually Tony Parker knocked down a couple free throws, then scored a pair of layups. Suddenly the lead was down to 10. The volume in the arena started to amplify just a bit. Kawhi Leonard scored a layup in transition and the lead was down to eight. A couple possessions later Leonard knocked down a 3-pointer and the lead was five. This was a ballgame.
Over the last 4:31 of the fourth quarter, the Spurs went 6-for-7 from the field and scored 18 points. Golden State went 1-for-9 from the floor and scored just two points. In that stretch, former Spur Richard Jefferson bricked two free throws that would’ve given the Warriors a seven-point lead with under two minutes remaining, just another moment that helped push this game to what will become legendary status.
In one of the more remarkable comebacks you’ll ever see, the Spurs erased a 16-point deficit in just four-and-a-half minutes and forced overtime. People who had left the AT&T Center a few minutes earlier to get a jump on traffic started reappearing. I spent the next I-don’t-know-how-many-minutes watching the Spurs fight back from every deficit, feeding off of each other and the suddenly explosive crowd.
The Spurs had a five point lead in double overtime, that quickly disappeared and turned into a one point deficit thanks in part to an ill-advised (and that’s putting it kindly) 3-point attempt from Manu Ginobili with 45 second left, only to have Ginobili sink the game-winning 3 with less than two seconds left.
Through it all nothing was believable, except that it all made sense. This was a sporting event where every possible scenario was on the table and it felt like most of them made an appearance. It was an incredible three hours and change that on paper only shows that the Spurs have a 1-0 series lead in the Western Conference Semifinals. But all those who were there (and didn’t leave early) and everyone who watched it on TV witnessed something special.
When someone asks you why you watch sports, this game is one you’ll point to. It’s one of the first ones you’ll bring up and the last one you’ll erase from your DVR. This one will be a night I never forget.
Play-by-play data courtesy of NBA.com/Stats