What the French Call A Certain I Don’t Know What
Golden State 91, San Antonio 109
San Antonio leads series 3-2
Finally, a game resembling what we all kind of thought the series might look like a little over a week ago.
So many good things from this game, but let’s start with the wee Frenchman. Game 3 might more be remembered as the “Tony Parker” game, but for me, tonight was quintessential Tony Parker. Friday in Game 3 he pushed the team to victory; tonight, he led them. 25 points, 10 assists, and only 2 turnovers, but that tells just a small part of the story. For the first time these playoffs, he looked like the quickest player on the floor, getting to his spots, getting to the rim, and generally controlling the tempo of the game. Not only that, but he played superb defense after getting picked on by the Warriors for 4 games. With Duncan still struggling a bit (though solid), we needed a big game from one of our two stars, and Parker did not disappoint. Everything else flowed freely from Parker’s control of the pivotal Game 5.
But this was a team win. And both Leonard and Green played superlative games, highlighting the best in each of them. Green in particular played to the highest of his abilities (only because Leonard has a higher ceiling). His defense was once again terrific. In turn, he caused fits for Curry, Jack, Thompson, and even Barnes. This has become old hat in this series. Where he helped to turn the game was on offense, going out of his comfort zone to really move off of screens and away from the ball, allowing Curry zero rest on either end of the court. And when the ball came to him wide open, he didn’t hesitate to shoot. Curry was clearly worn down by the end of the game, and it was Green’s offense that had a lot to do with this.
Likewise, Leonard played his usual quietly brilliant game. Pestering, in turn (like Green), any major threat from the Warriors on defense, and making things happen on offense. He’s been our best rebounded on both ends of the court, and finally looked a bit more aggressive looking for his offense. (I’d still like to see him more engaged and involved in set plays.)
Leonard and Green have effectively neutralized Thompson and Curry since the second half of Game 2. They are still playing well in spurts, and they’re great shooters and scorers and are going to have some impact. But they are not going to single-handedly beat us. By design, our defense has freed up room for Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack. Both good players. But if a rookie and a journeyman PG are going to lead a team past the Spurs into the Conference Finals, so be it. More power to them. My guess is that, as strong as Barnes is in the post against smaller defenders, and as many 20-feet jack-ups that Jack hits over tight defenders, Pop will live with, because that won’t beat us. (The two were much better tonight than they were Sunday, scoring a combined 45 points on 34 shots and 56% shooting. And they still lost by 18. Methinks this is part of the Spurs’ defensive design.)
And then there’s Manu. Oh, Manu. If his lows can be minimized, I’ll take a drop off in his highs, as well. We need his ups and downs to be compressed. I realized tonight that I still love the playmaking/irritant/slashing Ginobili, but I cover my eyes in horror every time we see ill-advised random spot-up jumper Ginobili. We’re going to get a few of those random 3s every game, and he might just make 1 or 2 of them. But if we can limit those, and still get more of the Ginobili who can run the offense, drive to the hoop, have great vision, and cause havoc in the open court and in 50-50 situations, we’ll be in good shape.
Kenny Smith said something interesting on the post-game. He said that Games 5, 6, and 7 are about experience. This is an idea that had been playing in my mind the last few days, and the one thing that gave me the most hope. Golden State has played extremely well in this series, and have proven that they are more than Curry and Thompson, more than a finesse team, more than a fluke, They are for real. But they are still inexperienced and young. It’s easy to play loose and free in the first round, to close out a series at home, to never face elimination. It’s even easy to play the same way in the first 4 games of the second round against an opponent heavily favored against you. But once you get to Game 5 and potential series enders, things change. The games tighten, possessions and moments mean even more, and experience and poise matter. For the first time all post-season, the Warriors will face elimination on Thursday. How will they respond? Will their belief still be as strong? Or will cracks start to show?
Because as shaky as the Spurs look, they know what they’re facing. The core of this team has been there time and time again; yet even the role players and younger players on the Spurs were there just last year, running through two and half rounds before hitting the wall. They know what it takes, and they’ve tasted the disappointment of coming up short. They know they need to give even more than they did tonight to finish off this Warriors team. Players like Splitter and Green, who were exposed last year, are ready to step up and contribute as best they can. The Big 3 are hungry for another shot at the Finals. Leonard seems poised for another step forward. Diaw has been in big moments; Neal has hit big shots in big moments.
The Spurs might not play their absolute best, but they won’t be fazed by the moment in Game 6.
Still, it’s a process. And as Pop likes to say, you can’t skip steps.
Game 6 is Thursday night on TNT.
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