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Hey, We Slowed Down Curry (Kind of)! What’s That? Klay Who?

By Jeff Koch on May 8, 2013.

Golden State 100, San Antonio 91
Series tied 1-1

Well that was interesting.

The Spurs put themselves in a big hole (again), dug out of it by playing frantic and desperate (again), only tonight could not come all the way back. So we head to Golden State, perhaps the most imposing arena for a visiting team, series tied 1-1, and the Spurs looking suddenly like the lesser and very beatable team.

If you’re a Spurs fan, you’re encouraged by the second half. We held the Warriors to just 38 points total, seemed to corral Curry and Thompson, and found some things that worked offensively by going small, pushing the tempo, and getting back to the ball and player movement. We had every opportunity to take control of this game late, but just kept missing wide open shots, easy lay-ups, put backs, tip ins, etc. That’s just the way the ball bounces sometimes. But it looks like the answer is small ball, which kind of plays into the Warriors hands, but also kind of plays into ours. Let’s do this.

But how we got into that position is what should really concern the team. That first half of basketball was pathetic, possibly the worst playoff half I’ve seen from the Spurs in a long time. At first glance you might just think: but Thompson had the half of his lifetime, and Curry was great, as well. The Warriors backcourt almost single-handedly outscored the Spurs in the first half.

And that is true, but it runs much deeper than that. Offensively, we just stopped being the Spurs. Parker was much more aggressive to start, which was good to see. But it was fool’s gold, because it was at the expense of ball movement and going from “good to great”, the unofficial motto of the Spurs’ offense. We played a lot of isolation, two-man pick and roll, and just abandoned the principles of the offense. There were no wide-open shots to be had off of the extra pass, and most of our shots were exactly what the Warriors wanted from us: long 2s, contested 3s. We were barely attacking the rim, and if not for great offensive rebounding, we would have been totally blown out of the game. (But even with the offensive boards, we were missing easy put backs and free throws.)

And defensively, we looked old and slow. It’s not just that Curry and Thompson are great shooters (which they clearly are), it’s that they are also great penetrators and shooters off the dribble. If it was just a 3-point shooting barrage, you live with that. But time after time their guards were blowing by their defenders, causing the defense to go into a total reactive mode, always one step behind, always leading to a wide-open shot somewhere. (Kind of how our offense should look, you know?)

The Spurs defensive principles are based on containing penetration, and forcing low percentage shots. But, the Warriors thrive on making those low percentage shots at a pretty efficient clip. So in order to level the playing field, the Spurs need to find ways to create more opportunities, ie, turnovers and offensive rebounds. And while we were solid on the offensive glass, we also missed a bunch of easy lay-ups after securing them, and gave up too many offensive rebounds to the Warriors.

The entire game felt like playing catch-up. In the first half, any empty offensive possession felt like the end of the world because we were unable to get any sort of consistent stops. We started to in the second half, but then totally failed to convert on enough offensive possessions.

After two games, one thing is clear: the Warriors are the more athletic team on both ends. We’re not going to beat them one-on-one, we’re not going to beat them with athleticism. We’re going to beat them with the hallmarks of Spurs basketball: intelligence, execution, ball movement, player movement, trusting the system, and pounding the rock. Those things started to reappear late in the game, but were totally absent for a long time, leading to a 20-point deficit we just couldn’t climb out of.

Which brings me to Manu. Manu is killing us in this series. Outside of the “shot”, he is playing bad. Thompson blows right by him on defense like he is a cone. He is making horrible decisions on offense, pressing, taking too many risks, missing easy shots (and bad ones). He is a liability right now, and I don’t know what the answer is. Because you have to have him on the court. And with Thompson often limiting Parker, the ball has to be in his hands late.

And I’d still like to see Leonard get more stuff called for him. He’s making his impression on the game just by being active and smart. But he is often mis-matched in the post against Curry or Jack, and he can abuse either down there. (Probably a better match-up than Duncan against Bogut.)

There’s definitely two ways to look at this series thus far: Golden State has dominated all but 4 minutes of regulation, and are the more athletic, hungrier, better shooting team. On the other hand, the Spurs were a few missed wide open 3s from possibly stealing another game, despite not having played a great quarter of basketball yet. Heading into Game 3, I have no idea what to expect. Nothing would surprise me at this point. As dominant as the Warriors have looked against us on our home court, I have no doubt that we can easily steal a game in Oakland.

One thing is for sure: this has the makings of one great series…if the Spurs can get their act together.

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