The stage was set and Spurs-Warriors should have been so much more

The stage was set and Spurs-Warriors should have been so much more

SAN ANTONIO -- There would be edge-of-your-seat drama and real-life warmth. There would be a clash of styles as well as cultures. And in the end, the proverbial torch would either be retained or forcibly passed.

Warriors-Spurs is the postseason series we’ve been waiting for, right? It’s the organized chaos of new-age ingenuity versus old-school stability that has become tradition, with the potential of generational shift. At last, the matchup fate somehow deprived us of the past two years.

Such enormous promise, and all of it has broken into tiny pieces that may as well be scattered from California to Texas.

The Warriors are missing their head coach, Steve Kerr, a disciple of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, with the two maintaining a long and great friendship.

The Spurs are without their floor catalysts, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, which has left them and without any chance of making these Western Conference Finals genuinely competitive.

Indeed, as the teams reconvene Monday night for Game 4 -- with San Antonio on the brink of elimination — the series limps along with the most compelling aspect being whether the Warriors can become the first team to begin a postseason with 12 straight wins.

Rather than competing against the Spurs, the Warriors are trying to race into the record book.

The only other fascination comes in studying what the Warriors are doing to the Spurs for the sole purpose of comparing them with what the Cavaliers are doing to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Warriors have won the first three games of the series by an average of 16.7 points. They’ve played at a level of 7.5 on their 10-scale, yet the only moments where there seemed even the remotest threat from the Spurs came and went in the first 30 or so minutes of Game 1, before Leonard was injured.

Meanwhile, the defending champion Cavaliers destroyed the Celtics in Game 1 and Game 2, winning by a combined 57 points before the Celtics pulled off an upset in Game 3 Sunday night.

That the Cavs have looked to be the sharper team is perhaps because the playoff Spurs are more formidable than the playoff Celtics.

Yet the Warriors have been impressive enough to leave Popovich and his players grasping for any shred of solace.

“I thought they did a great job,” Popovich said late Saturday night, after 120-108 Warriors victory. “They competed really well. Couldn't ask any more from them competitiveness-wise.”

Said Manu Ginobili: “For us to win, we have to play at a 10 level and they have to play at a 7. And we have to try to make them play at a 7 and play our best game. We know it's going to be very tough.”

This is not as it was supposed to be. The Spurs are the NBA’s gold standard, with 20 consecutive seasons of at least 50 wins and that many consecutive seasons in the playoffs. They were winning championships when NFL coach Bill Belichick was an assistant with the New York Jets. They won three championships during the George W. Bush administration and added another during when Barack Obama was in the White House. The Spurs have escorted two players into the Hall of Fame, with at least three more and a coach still to come.

The Warriors established themselves by winning a championship in 2015, but because they go through San Antonio there remained some uncertainty as to whether they were superior to the Spurs. Nothing changed last season, when the Warriors returned to The Finals, once again without facing the Spurs.

So this was the series that would end any and all skepticism and speculation. The Spurs did their part, blasting the Warriors on Opening Night and pushing them throughout the season, posting a 61-21 record that was second only to the Warriors.

As the Warriors were ousting the Trail Blazers and the Jazz, the Spurs were shedding the Grizzlies and the Rockets. The stage was set, the curtain raised and the show has been so . . . anticlimactic.

The surest sign a team has arrived in the NBA is when it takes out the Spurs in the playoffs. The Warriors, who likely would do that if the Spurs were fully healthy, are on the verge of doing it except not in the series as we wanted.

Report: During players-only meeting, Spurs implore Kawhi to return to lineup


Report: During players-only meeting, Spurs implore Kawhi to return to lineup

The Kawhi Leonard saga continues to take twists and turns.

After last Saturday night's win over Minnesota, the Spurs had a players-only meeting and implored Kawhi Leonard to return to game action, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

It didn't seem to work.

From Woj:

Leonard, 26, was resolute in response, insisting that he had good reason for sitting out all but nine games with a right quad injury this season, league sources said.

Leonard has targeted games in the recent week, only to decide that he wasn't feeling confident in the injury to return, league sources said.

After San Antonio's shootaround on Wednesday, Manu Ginobili was asked about Kawhi.

"He is not coming back," Ginobili told reporters. "For me, he's not coming back because it's not helping. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it.

"But we have to think that he's not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him. That shouldn't be changing, at least until he is ready for the jump ball."

Entering Thursday, the Spurs (42-30) are in 5th place in the Western Conference, three games clear of the 9th-place Nuggets. 

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

Warriors keeping quiet on playoff roster battles for the right reasons


Warriors keeping quiet on playoff roster battles for the right reasons

OAKLAND -- At the mention of the most relevant non-injury question related to the Warriors, Steve Kerr treats the subject like an IRS bill he’ll eventually have to pay.

“It’s not even something that we have to address,” Kerr said the other day.

On the same subject, Kerr’s boss, general manager Bob Myers, also goes into full procrastination mode.

“We’ll sit down at the end of this regular season,” Myers told 95.7 FM The Game on Wednesday, “and decide what our playoff roster should look like.”

Ah, yes, the playoff roster. Neither Kerr nor Myers is sharing details -- on whether Quinn Cook will be included -- because they don’t have to, don’t need to and are smart enough to avoid the fallout sure to follow a premature announcement.

Understand, though, Kerr and Myers realize they have to add Cook. The young point guard has earned it on merit and out of potential need.

Since replacing the injured Stephen Curry in the starting lineup March 9, Cook is averaging 16.3 points per game on 52.7-percent shooting, including 43.3 percent from deep. Over the last three games, as Cook grew comfortable with his role, those numbers rose to 24.3, 60.4 and 54.5.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all what Quinn’s doing,“ Kerr said. “We watched him in the G-League all year, lighting it up. We watched him in practice here; he’s one of our best shooters. And all of a sudden he’s playing 40 minutes? This is what he can do.”

“We kept telling him, go get 20. Go get 25. We need that. If you look at our roster without the guys that we have, he should be our leading scorer. That’s what he does.”

Yet the Warriors wisely will delay any announcement as long as possible. They can wait as late as April 11, the last day an NBA contract can be signed and be effective for this season. They have until noon April 13 to submit the postseason roster.

Cook, as a two-way player, doesn’t possess a standard NBA contract. He can only be added to the postseason roster if the Warriors create an opening. Someone on the current 15-man roster, holding a guaranteed contract, would have to be released before additions can be made.

No one is more vulnerable in that regard than Omri Casspi, who has been in and out of the lineup more than anyone else mostly as a result of inconsistent play, poor defense and nagging injuries. The veteran fell out of the rotation in January and was relegated mostly to blowout minutes before a cluster of injuries struck the team.

The Warriors have become increasingly reluctant to play him in crucial moments, and the playoffs are all about crucial moments.

The only other candidate is center Damian Jones, who almost certainly won’t play in the postseason. He spent nearly all season with G-League Santa Cruz, but remains on the team’s radar beyond this season. The Warriors aren’t certain he’s a keeper, but they’ve exercised the option to bring him back next season.

Which brings us back to Casspi, the veteran forward who signed a one-year contract last July. The Warriors are not invested in him beyond this season.

The team is moderately invested in Cook. His two-way contract runs through next season. Off what he has shown this season, particularly in recent games, he’s a strong candidate to swap the two-way pact for a standard NBA deal next season.

“He’s been great for us,” Myers told 95.7 The Game. “The future will be interesting. We like him a lot.”

Cook, who turns 25 on Friday, is the most dynamic point guard on the roster not named Stephen Curry. In the wake of Curry’s recurrent ankle woes this season, Kerr and Myers are acutely aware of the value in having someone comfortable sharing the load at the point with veteran Shaun Livingston. You may remember last year, when the Warriors were desperate enough to sign 35-year-old Jose Calderon for a similar role.

Cook is, at this time, more valuable than either Casspi or Jones. Or Calderon.

“We’re setting the roster going into the playoffs and make the best decision that allows us to win,” Myers said. “(CEO Joe Lacob) has made it clear. One thing about Joe . . . it’s about that. That’s the only directive he gives. Go win.

“Steve’s the coach. He’s the boss. He’s the captain of that ship, as far as what the roster should look like going into the playoffs.”

Cook’s fine work and Curry’s cranky ankle have brought the Warriors to this place. They have roughly three weeks to make the call or, rather, officially announce it.