Let’s put it this way. It took a lot longer for the San Antonio Spurs to feel the gravitational pull of the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 than Game 1. But it happened anyway, and now the last true adjustment in Gregg Popovich’s arsenal is the fact that Games 3 and 4 will be in Texas – the one place where the present Spurs are still the historical Spurs.
True, geography is a poor substitute for superior talent, roster depth or tactical wizardry, but tactical wizardry only works when the wizard has instruments within arm’s length to make those ideas come alive. Thus, San Antonio is left to rely Thursday and Sunday on the comforts of home – and friendlier rims, and more commodious backgrounds, and supportive fans.
If that’s your idea of an adjustment. And it probably isn’t.
Monday’s 116-101 choke-slam looked a lot like Saturday’s 113-92 throttling, only more condensed. The Spurs started Rudy Gay instead of Kyle Anderson, they double-teamed Kevin Durant and then Klay Thompson and then back again, and crowded whichever of the two wasn’t being doubled. They forced the Warriors into 11 first-half turnovers, and they got an inspired game from LaMarcus Aldridge.
And then the second half happened, just as the whole of Game 1 happened. The Warriors won the second half by precisely the same margin – 21 points – that they won all of Game 1, taking the Spurs’ best competitive instincts and reducing them to a single statistic.
14.3 percent, on 28 three-pointers, to Golden State’s 48.4 (15 of 31).
That 45-12 discrepancy wiped out San Antonio’s 53-47 halftime lead, neutralized the turnover imbalance and reduced San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich to a conciliatory tone that hinted at inevitability. He praised his team’s increased fight and attention to detail, spoke highly of Aldridge (34/12) and Gay, and then headed to the reason why Golden State looks so, well, Golden State-y.
“You gotta make shots,” he said. “It’s been like that all season on the road for whatever reason, and that makes it difficult.”
No, damned near impossible. The Warriors’ starters, which included JaVale McGee and Andre Iguodala again, shot 55 percent (34 of 62, 13 of 26 from afar), and the only real failings were 15 turnovers and David West’s tweaked ankle in the fourth quarter. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were – well, 63 points’ worth on 39 shots, and metrics only embellish that central truth. The Warriors, if you’ll forgive the narrative whoring, turned it on at will. Again.
“We just met their level of physicality and force,” head coach Steve Kerr said, without referring to tactical changes at all. “They just took it to us the whole first half. They were tremendous defensively . . . so in the second half, we matched their effort level and we were able to get the upper hand.”
And, he omitted to add, close that hand at throat level, taking a worrisome first half for the customers and turning it into a Warriors-standard game.
All that said, the Spurs’ considerable limitations in this series do not preclude them from stealing a game in San Antonio, if such a thing can be said about a team that has won its last 11 home games. Golden State’s oppressive dominance may seem like a return to the good old days, but it still feels more like increased focus combined with a very favorable matchup.
But if we see this game again at AT&T Thursday and/or Sunday, the Warriors may get that smell in their nostrils again and use it as fuel in subsequent rounds. They may just be beating a depleted and inaccurate team whose best player has apparently returned to his home planet for repurposing and perhaps relocation, but the way they are doing it is as nostalgia-inducing as it is breathtaking.
And that has proven over most of the last three years to beat tactics every time.