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Welcome to the Playoffs, San Antonio

By Jeff Koch on May 11, 2013.

San Antonio 102, Golden State 92
San Antonio leads series, 2-1

Perhaps the demise of the Spurs–and rise of the Warriors–has been greatly exaggerated. (A somewhat annual tradition for San Antonio.) Or at least a tad premature.

Which isn’t to say that things can’t turn on a dime again in the next two games. If we’ve learned anything in this series, it’s that there really won’t be a clear read on it until it’s over. For now, San Antonio seems to be back in control. But the next two games could flip that script again.

And yet, it seems like the Spurs figured something out in Game 3 that could have prolonged success against this young Warriors team. I loved the move back to our original starting line-up (to be fair, injury was the only thing that had prevented it until now), starting “traditional” and forcing the Warriors to match or daring them to defy our inside presence. In the first two games, the Spurs played almost exclusively from behind; being able to stay “even” through the first 8 minutes set up the rest of the game mentally, I thought, and prevented the crowd from getting too overwhelming.

I also feel like the rotations have been figured out. Duncan, Splitter, and Diaw are the bigs, with Duncan getting the most minutes, and Diaw and Splitter essentially splitting the remainder evenly. (Bonner saw time, but I think only because David Lee made another playoff cameo, a match-up that Bonner can handle. I don’t expect to see Bonner again unless Lee plays again. Ironically, without Lee’s presence, Bonner is too small for the big line-ups and too big for the small line-ups.) Leonard will play pretty much the entire game at the 3, with a few minutes bought for him by going very small and having Green or Ginobili slide into that position. Parker, Green, and Ginobili are the primary guards playing, with Neal and Joseph getting limited minutes each half.

Pop also rotated the breaks, giving Parker a much earlier break than normal (about the 4:00 minute mark of the 1st and 3rd quarters), and Duncan a much earlier break than normal. Overall, I thought all of the rotation and player decisions were strong, and I never felt like we couldn’t match up well. This was most noticeable in Golden State’s inability to take advantage of Parker on defense as they had in Games 1 and 2.

The other big development from the game was Green’s defense on Curry. In summary, it was nothing short of amazing. Green had the defensive game of his life; anything he did on offense was gravy at this point (he hit one huge 3-pointer to stem a Warriors’ run early in the 4th quarter). He was able to stay connected to Curry at all times by moving his feet and using his length. The normal small spaces that Curry needs to get his shot off, minuscule as they seem to be, weren’t even there, as Green completely smothered him. It was a joy to behold. On the other side of the court, Leonard did a fantastic job on Thompson, more or less removing him from the first half of the game.

With those two limited, the Warriors relied on role players to pick up the slack. Which they did admirably; but the Spurs will always live with that. As cliche as it might sound, the shooting and scoring from Curry and Thompson does more than just put points on the board; it completely energizes the rest of the team and the crowd, and helps to create a groundswell that sparks runs. Perhaps the Spurs’ greatest achievement in this game, harkening back to playoffs of yore, was completely removing the crowd from the game, giving them very little room to push the Warriors team.

Offensively, it was the Tony Parker show, putting on his own little Curry impersonation (even pulling up short on pick and rolls and burying long 3s, something Parker has never done). It’s amazing the difference a few made shots can make. In the first half, the jump shot was going, and Parker just demolished all comers with it, particularly going left. In the second half the jump shot regressed to the mean, but the driving lanes had opened up, and he was still able to navigate the offense effectively. In truth, in the 4th quarter, both teams’ offense kind of ground to a halt, but the Spurs did just enough “Spurs” things to keep the Warriors at bay and pull out the win.

As mentioned, in so many ways, this was a throwback playoff win. The team bore down on defense, played slow and methodical on offense, showed poise and veteran ‘know how’ to close the game out, and tuned out the “loudest arena in the NBA”, negating what is widely believed to be the best home court advantage in the NBA. Conventional wisdom states that young teams play better at home, but it was the Spurs team that looked more comfortable on the Oracle arena floor tonight.

The only mar on the game tonight was a pair of injuries. Curry pretty visibly turned his ankle late in the game, gamely limping through the last few minutes but as a complete non-factor; and Parker seemed to take a hit to his left calf, and was reportedly hobbling pretty badly after the game. Injuries are a part of the game, but here’s hoping both players are fully ready for Game 4’s quick turnaround (Sunday early afternoon).

This series has proven to be completely unpredictable up until now. It seems as if both teams are pretty settled into who they are, how they’re going to play, and what they need to do to win. Moving into Game 4, it seems as if it is not about which team can assert its will more powerfully and more frequently.

In a battle of that nature, I like the Spurs chances.

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