Maybe as a hint to Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors that perhaps it’s time to shut down their starters, the San Antonio Spurs delivered what can only be described as a warning shot from a defending champion, beating the team with the best record in the league 107-92.
This was the first time the Warriors have lost a game after 12 consecutive wins. The Spurs allowed Stephen Curry to score points, but forced him to try and win on his own. While it’s always nice to see Curry do some splendid individual things, it’s been proven over the last few years that Curry on his own is far from enough, and that the system the Warriors have in place which spreads the wealth to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and others is the right one.
Kawhi Leonard was a defensive nightmare for anyone who faced him with 7 steals, also leading the scoring with 26 points in one of those games that showed just how much the Spurs have been missing this season whenever he wasn’t healthy enough to play. That has cost them when it comes to the playoff seeding, but even from sixth, it’s quite clear they’re healthy, rested and prepared to do serious damage in their title defense.
Curry led the Warriors with 24 points but was the only player in the starting lineup with double figure scoring. No quick ball movement and more importantly no fast breaks (forced only 12 turnovers, scoring only 14 on the break) means a very difficult time to get players who live off quickness and energy like Marreese Speights into the game.
Golden State has not won in San Antonio since Feb. 14, 1997, the season before Duncan arrived. They’ve been losing there by an average of more than 16 points per game. Even in a franchise record breaking season, they still can’t get over that hump. The Spurs win the season series between the two teams 2-1, maybe suggesting that despite the Warriors NBA-best record, the Spurs are still the team to beat in the West and in the league.
But it’s not at all certain that the two teams meet in the playoffs. At the moment, it’s not going to happen before the conference finals, unless the Spurs move up in the word and finish fourth or fifth in the West. At 51-26 they have 0.5 games above the 4th place (thanks to being number one in their division) Blazers and 0.5 games behind the Clippers at fifth.
The Warriors are going to finish with the number one record in the league; they only need one more win to make it a certainty. However, it’s probably time to start shutting players down. Maybe Kerr is afraid of playing becoming rusty or losing their timing and rhythm, but it doesn’t make sense to keep on going at full speed towards the finish line. Not when there’s so much at risk, and not when there’s very little to achieve by winning more than one of the remaining games.