The San Antonio Spurs needed that win over the Golden State Warriors a lot more than the NBA champions needed it. Sure, it showed what Kawhi Leonard can do when he’s not chasing around Stephen Curry, and maybe the best player in the league can be stopped with the right kind of defense. But once the dust settles, one thing needs to be made clear: It was one regular season game.
The Warriors are still one pace to finish with the best record in NBA history (7 losses, 13 games to go, two of them against San Antonio). The Spurs (10 losses) might tie up the Bulls as well. One thing is certain: There has never been a duo of teams like this in the same season. It doesn’t mean that either of them is one of the best in NBA history. But numbers disregard quality. They tell a story from a certain perspective, dry numbers of wins and losses. From that angle, nothing has even been done like this Spurs-Warriors run at the top of the West.
The Warriors don’t feel like they’ve been exposed. Just like in any other loss they had this season, it’s about making shots, and in the famous words of Kevin Durant, “we didn’t make shots” is what they’re probably telling themselves to convince themselves everything is going back to normal. It probably is. They’ve responded to every loss this season with a series of wins (except for their two losses in three games “crisis”), and it won’t be surprising to see them doing the same thing again.
And the Warriors played without Andre Iguodala, who is one of their three playmakers (Curry and Green being the others). And without Andrew Bogut, whose importance usually shows on the defensive side. The Warriors played good defense, but struggling to hit three pointers (Curry was 1-for-12) didn’t give them the time they usually have to set up defensively. The slow pace (slowest they’ve been through all season), just like in the NBA finals last season, hurt them. The Spurs are much more comfortable with things moving like a tortoise, not a hare (their first clash this season).
But Tim Duncan barely played. And Tony Parker had a bad game (he doesn’t seem to flourish in front of Curry). The Spurs weren’t perfect either. They could have done better, and hit a few more shots. Gregg Popovich probably knew they needed the confidence builder. To know they can beat the Warriors. And not just beat them, but cancel them out, and force them into a style and pace the Spurs are completely comfortable with.
Besides slowing down Curry with multiple defenders in each possession, the key was stopping Draymond Green, which will mean the same from Iguodala. Stop the ball movement at the source, and make Curry create plays for himself all on his own. Sure, he’s going to have better shooting days than this, even with hands in his face (13-of-18 shots were contested), but things are a lot easier with someone setting you up for shots. Kawhi Leonard doing it on one end while LaMarcus Aldridge was too much for the Bogut-less Warriors completely threw the Warriors out of their game plan.
Is this a blueprint for the rest of the league? Probably not. Leonard is a one-of-a-kind player in the NBA right now. And besides him, the Spurs have Danny Green, and an overall system that no other team emulates. You need length, discipline and intelligence to bother the Warriors at both ends like that. Some teams have one or even two of those ingredients at a satisfactory amount. But all three? The Spurs might be the last line of defense against a repeat, and they’ve just shown all of their cards.