Golden State Warriors 100, San Antonio Spurs 91: Super Splash Brothers Melee
AT&T CENTER — It was like deja vu all over again. The Warriors guard rose up and flicked the ball with the casualness of a Sunday morning breakfast. More often than not it went in and for one quarter of the night, the shots fell so consistently that the groans came from those gathered at the AT&T Center before the Warriors’ gunner even started his release.
This time it was the second quarter. And this time it was Klay Thompson.
Thompson scored a career-high 34 points on 13-of-26 shooting and 8-for-9 from 3-point range, including a 17 point barrage in the second quarter, as the Golden State Warriors held on for a 100-91 win after another late charge from the Spurs. Thompson also had a career-high 14 rebounds. The win for the Warriors evened the Western Conference Semifinals series at one game apiece.
Like Stephen Curry in Game 1, every time Thompson touched the ball, it seemed destined to end up at the bottom of the net and there wasn’t much anyone in silver and black could do about it. Unlike Curry in Game 1, a large portion of these shots came from spot-up opportunities, afforded thanks to the attention given to Curry after the shooting clinic he put on in Game 1.
“I told him at halftime that is, end of discussion, one of the greatest halves ever,” Golden State head coach Mark Jackson said after the game. “I have the greatest shooting backcourt that’s ever played the game and call my bluff.”
The Spurs looked like they might have solved the riddle of The Greatest Shooting Backcourt That Couldn’t Miss in the second half when Gregg Popovich started Kawhi Leonard as the small ball power forward and brought Gary Neal on instead of another big man. After facing a 19-point halftime deficit, the Spurs cut Golden State’s lead down to eight points by the last possession of the third quarter. But then Warriors guard Jarrett Jack found Thompson open in the corner for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that reestablished Golden State’s lead at double digits and killed a significant portion of San Antonio’s momentum.
The smallball lineup seemed to work for the Spurs in the third quarter. It enabled the Spurs to put Leonard and Danny Green on Thompson and Curry, while Parker, Ginobili and Gary Neal defended some combination of Harrison Barnes, Jarrett Jack and whichever power forward Golden State played. Despite not matching the Spurs’ smallball approach and going big, the Warriors were unable to punish San Antonio inside. The Spurs outrebounded Golden State 17-12 in the third quarter and had only three second chance points to San Antonio’s 11.
The catalyst for the positives in the smallball approach was Leonard. The Spurs swingman was everywhere in the third quarter, tipping out rebounds, blocking shots, finishing on the break, not to mention his defense on the Warriors pair of shooters. Leonard’s effort and activity created opportunities for everyone in silver and black. Leonard’s line in the third quarter looks meager (six points, four rebounds, a block and an assist), but the impact it had can’t be understated.
In the fourth quarter Golden State’s lead was down to as few as six points about midway through the period, but the Spurs’ inability to capitalize on free throws and 3-point shots, a recurring theme for most of this game, hurt them in the end. San Antonio finished the game 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) from the 3-point line, with their first make not coming until Danny Green (10 points on 4-of-12 shooting) knocked one down at the 7:43 mark of the third quarter. To make matters worse, the Spurs hit just 16-of-24 (66.7 percent) of their free throws as well. While the Warriors were able to knock down big shots at opportune times, the Spurs failed to knock down the open shot opportunities that came their way.
Going forward, it seems like San Antonio’s best bet is to ride the small lineup. It seems to give them their best chance at defending the Warriors shooters while spreading the floor offensively and being competitive of the boards. The lineup including Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green didn’t fare to well in the advanced metrics on Wednesday night, but that lineup with Boris Diaw instead of Duncan was the group that won Game 1 for San Antonio.
There are no perfect choices in the game of playoff adjustments. No decision is easy. Like bringing Manu Ginobili off the bench years ago, going with a smallball lineup could be the personnel change Gregg Popovich is forced into. If not, the Spurs might have a couple of previews for what Game 3 could be like.
Lineup data courtesy of NBA.com/Stats