There wasn’t just one thing the San Antonio Spurs did that worked as they beat the Golden State Warriors 87-79 to not just keep their hopes alive of finishing first in the West, but to possibly provide a mini blueprint in how to stop Stephen Curry and the NBA champions offense.
The Spurs handed the Warriors their seventh loss of the season. Just like every other time the Warriors lost this year, they tried to make it about them not hitting shots, and that they’ll bounce back in the next game. So far, that attitude, even if it’s not what they’re really thinking, has been proven correct every time. They’re 62-7 with 13 games to go, two of them against the Spurs. Like San Antonio, they’re undefeated when playing at home. Also, in the excuses part, the one the Warriors hated hearing from other teams, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut didn’t play.
So how bad was it for the Warriors? Extremely bad. It wasn’t just the first time they’ve lost to a would-be contender (the Spurs might be the only contender); it kept the franchise’s streak in San Antonio alive, with the Warriors not winning there since 1997. The Warriors shot 37.8% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc (36 attempts), and it wasn’t just cold hands from long range. The Spurs made them uncomfortable at every turn and possession.
Some think it was the slow pace (90.2 per 48 minutes), but the Warriors haven’t been too affected by it before, going 31-2 when it’s below 102, and 17-0 when it’s between 95-100. However, the Warriors’ 6 slowest games now include 2 losses, 2 OT wins and a 3-point win as well as one blowout victory. But it might have been the different plan devised for slowing down Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, which threw the Warriors offense out of sync.
Curry was awful. Not just open misses, but getting a lot of bad looks (not that he cares about that), shooting 4-for-18 from the field and 1-of-12 from beyond the arc, scoring 14 points. Klay Thompson scored 15 points, with some saying that when the refs don’t help him through ignoring moving screens, he just isn’t the same player. He was on 7-of-20 from the field, 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. But the Warriors win this way. With both of them launching threes non stop. History says they’ll hit ’em and get hot at some point.
Kawhi Leonard had a rough time with Curry the first time these two teams met. Popovich kept him away from Curry in this round, getting to be the initial defender on Curry on just two of 72 possessions. Leonard did most of his work on Green, guarding him on 46 possessions. The plan worked well, as Green did finish with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists, but didn’t pick up the slack of show up instead of Curry and Thompson. Those missing points didn’t show up. The Warriors shot 36.6% from the field when Leonard guarded Green, who didn’t create as much as he’s used to. Warriors players who shot with Leonard on them were just 2-for-8 from the field for 5 points.
So who did guard Curry? Everyone. A lot of Danny Green, but the key was switching defenders in the middle of possessions. They switched the initial defender 52% of the time and when switching, Curry’s usage rate was 25 percentage points lower than when the Spurs did not switch. Of his 18 shots, 13 were contested, and the only time he got anything going was when Aldridge was guarding him, which isn’t surprising. Most of his attempts came without a preceding pass. He kept trying to force things despite the Spurs figuring him out, at least for one night.
Offensively, Aldridge was a problem for Golden State. He scored 26 points, backed up by Leonard with 18, 14 from Boris Diaw and 10 from Danny Green. Tim Duncan played just 8 minutes. Tony Parker scored just 6 points. They played a minor role in this fight, and it seems Popovich didn’t pull an all-out rest kind of game because he thought his players needed this kind of win. Steve Kerr is confident enough his players confidence won’t be shaken up from what might not be their worst loss of the season in terms of margin, but could be the most meaningful.