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Our New Robot Overlords

By Jeff Koch on April 3, 2014.

Golden State 90, San Antonio 111

19 straight wins. Another division title. Yawn. We care because our Spurs don’t.

There’s a narrative around the Spurs that always tends to remove humanity from them. Whether they are ‘boring’ (thankfully a notion that has all but disappeared), ‘efficient’, or ‘machine-like’, interchangeable parts plugged into an unstoppable machine, they are rarely described as human. The offense is lauded and roundly admired, but it’s more like a watch than a ballet. This narrative wholly ignores the pure beauty and creative genius of players like Ginobili, Diaw, the grace of Parker, the wild and frenzied energy of Mills. This makes it more impressive: it’s like a saxophonist taking a jazz lead in the middle of a Mozart symphony…and it all still sounding amazing.

But there is a way in which the Spurs-machine really is a computer: how they learn an opponent and figure out the best way to beat them. They run every permutation, play out thousands and thousands of models, plan for all scenarios, until they just know you. Then they execute the game plan ruthlessly, with near-flawless (as close to that as actual humans can get) execution. The Grizzlies upset them in the playoffs several years ago: The Spurs have outright owned them since.

I bring this up because it feels like the Spurs Robot is well on the path to figuring out Curry and this Warriors team. With the 3-point shooting of Curry and Thompson, there is always a margin of error risk that the game can get out of hand. But the way the team now defends Curry in particular, barely giving him any daylight (often with Leonard on him) and forcing him to pass it to bigs in the soft midrange, it feels like they’ve gained a distinct upper hand.

The end result of last night’s game has little to tell us. The Warriors were without Bogut and Iguadola, who, if not the team’s best players, might be their most important players; they were playing on the tail end of a back to back. The Spurs should have won that game. But watching the ways they defended Curry, it makes me think that a potential playoff series wouldn’t be nearly as contested as last year’s.

The “Golden State Warriors Defensive Program” software is about 85% loaded into our beloved team of cyborgs.

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