Last week against Portland, Golden State scored 81 points in the first half.
But up against the best defense in the NBA, the Warriors shot just 37.8 percent overall, 25 percent from three, and their unstoppable force Stephen Curry hit just 1-of-12 from three.
That is not going to get it done against the Spurs.
San Antonio beat Golden State 87-79 in a game where the host Spurs controlled the style of play from the opening tip. It improves the Spurs to 35-0 at home and serves as a reminder to anyone who thought the Warriors were on a cake walk to another trophy that at least one team has some answers for them.
This game was played at San Antonio’s pace and in their style (just 90 possessions, nearly a dozen below the Warriors average). Curry admitted the Warriors could not get comfortable in their offense.
Which is a huge credit to the Spurs, as the Warriors forced the game toward their small ball style from the start. With Andrew Bogut out injured the Warriors went to their small ball lineup to start, with Brandon Rush. Gregg Popovich countered by sending Tim Duncan to the bench and starting Boris Diaw in his space. Duncan only played eight minutes, and for long stretches Popovich went with a double point guard lineup of Tony Parker and Patty Mills. Consider that a glimpse into the future — when the Warriors go to their death lineup in the playoffs, the Spurs feel they can match up. (To be fair, the Warriors are without Andre Iguodala, a key part of their best small lineup.)
Lineups weren’t the only thing the Spurs tried. They picked up Curry out to 30 feet, they did a good job switching and challenging threes, they used LaMarcus Aldridge more in the paint (26 points, but on 25 shots), and they seemed to run the offense through Kawhi Leonard less (18 points still, and he was a beast on the boards).
The Spurs defense was at the heart of everything — it had the Warriors rushing. The Spurs contested 37 Warriors shots and they hit just 35.1 percent on those. However, the Warriors had 36 uncontested shots and hit just 38.9 percent on those.
Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 15 points, but on 20 shots. Curry had 14 points, but on 18 shots. Looks they have hit against other teams did not fall against the Spurs, which is a bit luck but San Antonio’s smart defense had something to do with that.
The other key was the Spurs bench outplaying the Warriors bench — the Warriors starting five by itself was just -4 on the night, but the Spurs bench has been better this season and that came tough on Saturday.
Is this game indicative of what we will see in late May when these teams meet in the Western Conference Finals? (And we all know that is coming, right? Sorry Oklahoma City.)
No. Not completely. The Warriors were short-handed without two of their top six players, and they were on the second night of a back-to-back. They missed shots they often make.
But if anyone thought the Spurs simply could not keep up with the Warriors, this game proves them wrong. The first meeting between these teams was the anomaly. This game showed some of how these teams plan to attack each other in the playoffs, and the San Antonio had to like how their strategies work.
The Spurs can hang with and challenge the Warriors. This is an elite team who knows how to defend, knows how to get the shots it wants, and that can win you a title.
Is that enough come the Western Conference Finals?
Ask me in June.