Ray Ratto

The Warriors turned it on at will. Again.

The Warriors turned it on at will. Again.

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.

49ers learn a lesson after letting big lead slip in win over Lions


49ers learn a lesson after letting big lead slip in win over Lions

The 49ers now are 1-1, but to keep you hooked for next week, we can report that nothing of substance was revealed Sunday.
At least nothing that would make you have firm beliefs about who and what they are, what they have and what they lack.
In escaping the Detroit Lions, 30-27, the 49ers largely showed that they have the capability to dominate an inferior team but are not assured enough to finish them. Or, to quote Richard Sherman, which always is a good place to go, they need to learn “not to take a sigh when you’re up, 30-13.” In other words, to allow 182 yards and two scores once you take said lead, which is more a matter of player attention than scheme flaws.
They learned that teams still believe in Sherman enough to avoid throwing his way, and that means they will throw at Ahkello Witherspoon on the other side of the field until he makes them do otherwise.
They learned that Jimmy Garoppolo still holds the ball longer than safety would permit, and either he needs to be more decisive or his wide receivers need to be more forceful in separation.
(Cue Josh Gordon hysteria in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... )
They learned that Pierre Garcon will block all the way to the parking lot, as he did on Matt Breida’s 66-yard touchdown run, and that Garoppolo will make a tackle when the need is acute, as it was on Tracy Walker’s apparent game-winning interception -- “just a flashback to my linebacking days, I guess,” the QB said, minimizing the monumental error he helped commit to make that tackle momentarily necessary.
But mostly, they found out that they have miles to go before they can feel confident about their institutional knowledge about putting games away, because they did allow the Lions, who had been routed by the New York Jets a week ago, to scare them within an off-the-ball holding call that negated Walker’s interception and saved the 49ers' defense from having to make a desperate stand.
How desperate? A number of 49ers referred to it as a pick-six, which it wasn’t, no matter how it might have felt.
“A win’s a win,” coach Kyle Shanahan said with the precision of a Football Outsiders staffer, “but I’m extra frustrated that we couldn’t finish ‘em off. We have to learn to put those games away.”
The problem, of course, is that the 49ers are not yet at that stage of their development and are just seven games from being one of the most forlorn teams in the National Football League. Like everyone else, they would seem to be prone to recency bias – in this case, thinking the Lions were ready to Vontae Davis the rest of their season based on seven quarters of uninspiring football.
More to the point, it is hard to gauge them off a decisive loss to a superior team and a narrow win over an inferior one. As one of the many teams stuck in the amorphous middle of the league, the 49ers will be prone to the performance swings between weeks and within games.
Shanahan, for example, made a point of saying how much better he felt about his team’s red-zone performance in Week 1 at Minnesota than he did Sunday, even though they scored twice. Three sacks of Garoppolo and just 8 yards gained in 20 plays inspired that analysis.
Shanahan also answered the Gordon issue by saying how much loves the players he has but always is looking to improve the roster, a noncommittal answer to a question inspired only by the receiver’s reportedly stated interest in coming. The 49ers presumably would be more efficient and effervescent offensively when Marquise Goodwin returns from his thigh bruise, but that, like Gordon’s desirability, remains only speculative.
This is about the known, and the known is pretty minimal. The 49ers are exactly what we all expected them to be after two weeks -- a work in progress and in regress. Their next two games against dynamic offenses in Kansas City (oh God) and Los Angeles (the Chargers can score, but they remain goofy), and then they return to face the wholly inert Cardinals before drawing the Packers at Lambeau and the Rams in L.A.
In other words, this will get harder before it gets easier. But a win’s a win, and it’s better that they try to keep the short view for now. There are plenty of people available to take the long view for them.

Where Erik Karlsson trade ranks in greatest Bay Area sports acquisitions


Where Erik Karlsson trade ranks in greatest Bay Area sports acquisitions

The Erik Karlsson trade is very clearly the second-biggest deal in San Jose Sharks history, and that only because nothing is going to beat the Joe Thornton trade almost 13 years ago.
That turned out to be a massive swindle for the Sharks, fueled in part by Boston’s zeal to solve its Thornton problem (he didn’t win six Stanley Cups in his five seasons as a Bruin). The Karlsson deal seems to resemble that deal in that Ottawa wanted Karlsson gone as part of its ritual franchise-gutting, and Doug Wilson had already removed their issues with Mike Hoffman earlier in the season.
But for non-hockey fans, this still ranks among the biggest acquisitions in Bay Area history regardless of sport – if and only if he gives what the trades implies, a clear path to the Stanley Cup.
For the moment, Karlsson represents hope rather than deeds. He was an indisputably great player in Ottawa, still has plenty of tread on the tires, and changes the Cup equation for every contender.
But without the advantage of the advanced hindsight that actual Stanley Cup parades can provide, he must be placed behind the following:
-- Barry Bonds (no title, but he is unmatched for talent, impact, stadium construction or controversy).
-- Kevin Durant (took the Warriors from merely great to generational, and helps with social media).
-- Steve Young, Fred Dean or Deion Sanders (each helped the 49ers win a Super Bowl, though Young was clearly most impactful, and two of the three got network gigs afterward).
-- Ted Hendricks, Willie Brown and Jim Plunkett (helped the Raiders do the same).
-- The re-acquisition of Rick Barry (the Warriors’ title in 1975 was largely his doing, though the Warriors’ greater strength was its ensemble quality).
-- Andre Iguodala (the first free agent to actively choose Golden State and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP).
-- Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley (pillars of the A’s 1989 World Series, and icons since).
There are others if you want to delve deeper (and hey, you’re the only who knows your work schedule), but this gives you an idea of the bar that needs clearing for the momentary enthusiasm of getting Erik Karlsson to become an enduring achievement in the annals of Bay Area talent grabs.
At the moment, Karlsson is probably closer to Chris Webber going to Sacramento in 1998, taking a bad team and making it a factor in a league that has shunned it before and after. The Sharks haven’t been shunned as much as they have been pandered to as the team that can’t win the big prize and has only gotten to play for it once. In other words, they’re not the Kings.
But the Sharks are the new hot flavor in the NHL in the way that Golden State was in 2013 and 2014. A parade permit is the limit and the expectation, and when that happens, Karlsson’s name can go on the above list.