Ok, I’ll admit that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as the Spurs were down 16 with four minutes to go in the series opener against the Golden State Warriors. After the Warriors almost let game six slip away in their first round series with the Denver Nuggets, I knew a fourth quarter collapse was possible. Still, I had given up and was starting to rethink my prediction that the Spurs would beat the Warriors in five games. Then it happened: free throw, free throw, layup, layup, layup, Diaw for three!!!! A layup from Tony and it’s a three point game.
At this point, I’m jumping around the living room, putting on the championship belt, and screaming under my breath so I don’t wake up the four year old. Two overtimes later, I am ready to drive up to San Antonio, cruise downtown and spend the rest of the night high-fiving strangers.
Golden State can’t win the series without winning a game in San Antonio, something they haven’t done since February 14, 1997. If they were going to steal a game in San Antonio, game one was going to be their best chance. The Spurs looked terrible and were behind by double digits over and over throughout the game. Tim was sick, Tony wasn’t looking for his shot and Manu was way off until he won back the hearts of Spurs fans with his game winning three pointer. Even Pop seemed a little off of his game, waiting too long to adjust to a red hot Steph Curry.
And yet, with a 16 point lead late in the fourth quarter, the Warriors showed weakness where championship teams generally show strength. They couldn’t close out a game that they should have easily won. They barely held on to beat the Nuggets in game six of their first round series. In that game, they were up 18 with nine minutes to go. The Nuggets managed to cut that lead to two points with 11 seconds left. For the Warriors, they must have thought they were in some sort of Twilight Zone time continuum where they are forced to give up big double digit leads game after game.
For the Spurs, they have to feel a little lucky having won a game that looked to be out of hand. And while they may feel lucky, it wasn’t luck that won that game. In game five of the ’12 Western Conference Finals, the Spurs lost at home to Oklahoma City in a game they had to win. In that game, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, and Danny Green went a combined 1-12 shooting and scored six points. Last night, the same trio scored 50 points on 18-34 shooting and 9-15 from beyond the arc. Kawhi locked up Steph Curry in the fourth quarter and the Spurs got stops when they needed them. This team is experienced and they are better. These tense, late game situations in the post season are still new for a young Warriors team with only five players on the roster who have playoff experience. Compare that to a Spurs team anchored by Tim, Tony and Manu who have 490 playoff appearances between the three of them.
Pop is one of the best if not the best coach in the game right now. The play he drew up in the second overtime was pretty amazing. I’m going to try and break it down the best I can.
Tony starts off at the baseline near the basket. Pop has Tony run through two screens as he breaks high. Two screens sure make the play look like it was drawn up for him. It wasn’t. Tony was wide open coming off the screens and Kawhi could have gotten the ball to Tony if the play had been drawn up that way. Pop designed the play to go to Diaw rolling towards the basket.
You can see here that Kawhi is looking to hit Diaw breaking towards the basket. If Manu’s man (the guy in the red box) stays home, Diaw gets an easy layup to put the Spurs up by one. Manu’s man made the right play when he decided to stay with Diaw. He didn’t have much of a choice. That left Manu wide open to redeem himself from a terrible shooting night and maybe get breakfast cooked by Pop this morning.
No one got any sleep last night. The Spurs couldn’t sleep because they realize they almost gave up home court to a dangerous team. The Warriors weren’t sleeping because they know they let the perfect opportunity to steal one slip out of their hands. I don’t think the Warriors will lay down but I’m fairly confident that this series isn’t going past five games. I wont be surprised if the Spurs sweep the Warriors. The Warriors simply aren’t as good as the Spurs. Curry can’t keep up this scoring pace throughout the entire series. The Spurs are more consistent on both sides of the floor and it’s unlikely that Tony will have another bad game like he did in the first 44 minutes of game 1. With all the criticism the Spurs get for being too old, I don’t think anyone in the playoffs would prefer to be too young.