Spurs hope to learn from squandered opportunity

SAN ANTONIO -- The "L" word reverberated throughout the locker room Wednesday after a fast start morphed into slow death for the San Antonio Spurs, which saw a 22-point first quarter lead disintegrate into a 110-98 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Nearly every Spur interviewed said they'd "learn" from this, or characterized the game's outcome as a "learning experience."

"I think it's a great learning experience," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "Reality check? We knew who we were playing. One of the best teams of the last few years ... . It was not going to be easy. We knew it was going to be tough."

The Spurs also now understand their road through the postseason probably will track a little more adversely as most likely the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. San Antonio probably knocked itself out of a shot at securing the top seed, as it fell 3½ games back of Golden State with eight games left in the regular season.

It's a fate the veteran Spurs can accept, but not without critical self-evaluation to prevent a another meltdown should the teams meet again in the Western Conference finals. Surrendering a 22-point lead to a Golden State team playing without an injured Kevin Durant even led Spurs guard Danny Green to consider what they're missing given the retirement of franchise icon Tim Duncan.

"It's the NBA. You can't dwell on any of them," Green said. "You learn from it and move forward, be more professional, and try to get better. In the past that's where Timmy was good for us, or teams in the past just collectively. We wouldn't let things like that happen. It might happen, but rarely. But I think it's happened more often than it should here at this time and this year.

"I wouldn't say it was a wake-up call. We knew what was at stake. We knew what we had to do. We did it. We just didn't do it for 48 minutes."

Having posted a 34-1 record over the Warriors at home over the past 20 years, San Antonio appeared to be well on the way to gobbling up win No. 35 after storming to a 15-0 lead on the strength of Green's third 3-pointer just a little more than four minutes into the game.

With 5:01 left in the opening quarter, the Spurs extended the lead to 20 points (23-3) on a LaMarcus Aldridge fadeaway jumper. A minute and 32 seconds later, Aldridge knocked down a 3 on an assist from Kawhi Leonard to put the Spurs up by 22 points.

The rout seemed to be afoot.

"We made shots," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I thought they were a little sloppy defensively. But they got it back, certainly."

The Warriors started off hitting 1-of-4 from 3-point range uncontested in the opening quarter, but by the 11:02 mark of the fourth quarter, the team had drained 7-of-10 on such shots for 19 points. The Warriors connected on 27 percent (3-of-11) when shooting off of a teammate's pass in the first quarter, before draining 72 percent for the rest of the game on those shots (28-of-39).

San Antonio compounded Golden State's hot shooting late by missing assignments and not communicating on defense.

"Yeah, [if] you don't communicate defensively, they're going to get a bucket, and a lot of times it's going to be a 3, which hurts," Green said. "We've got to do a better job of scrambling, talking, communicating. As veterans, we've got to do a better job of leading, and learn how to finish teams off, learn how to continue to stay professional and play 48 minutes, and not let teams back in it and not let them get any light. We've gotten some leads and blown them a couple of times just by sloppy play."

Golden State fell behind 29-7 with 3:29 remaining in the opening quarter. From there, the Warriors outscored the Spurs 103-69, while shooting 56.9 percent, including 12-of-22 from deep with 30 assists and only nine turnovers. San Antonio, on the flip side, scored just 69 points, shot 38.1 percent, recorded 15 assists and turned it over 13 times.

In all, Golden State scored 23 points off Spurs turnovers, and in the process locked down Leonard, who shot 7-of-20 for 19 points with five turnovers.

The last time the Spurs led by at least 15 points after the first quarter, and then lost by double-digits was April 8, 2009 when they took a 33-16 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers only to fall 95-83.

"Just the same that I've been seeing for probably about the past few weeks," Leonard said when asked how the Warriors defended him. "Just double screening the ball, pick and roll, coming help side on my isolations. They did a great job showing hands and crowding."

The Warriors disrupted the Spurs with all their switching. In those instances, San Antonio "settled" according to Aldridge, and played one-on-one ball too often, as opposed to continuing to move the ball to find better shots.

"They just took us out of a lot of things," Aldridge told ESPN.com. "I thought we got passive, and kind of settled a little bit. The Game 1 versus them was so long ago, but I felt like we didn't settle as much. I thought we still attacked and tried to make things happen. I thought tonight we kind of settled a little bit.

"Defensively, we just made too many mistakes. I think the hot start kind of got us going. But then they picked it up, and we should have made [fewer] mistakes. This team is good. They're going to make shots. They're not going to give up. I thought we made too many mistakes to let them back in the game. In the first quarter, the ball was moving, and guys were getting shots. I think as the game went on, we kind of went stagnant. When they switched stuff, we just kind of just gave into it. We didn't move the ball and make them keep guarding."

Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports

Warriors remind Spurs that road to West title still runs through Golden State

If there was ever any doubt about whether the Golden State Warriors were the team to beat in the Western Conference, that is no longer the case.

Down 15-0 on the road to San Antonio, on the second night of a brutal back-to-back, the Warriors could have folded. They could have rested the Splash Brothers and Draymond Green, run the reserves out there and moved on to focus on the remainder of their season. And no one would have blamed them.

Instead, the Warriors locked in on the defensive end, holding the Spurs to just 65 points over the final three quarters, and came away with 110-98 victory that reasserted their dominance in the West. The win was the Warriors’ ninth in a row and pushed their lead over the Spurs for the top spot in the conference to 3 1/2 games with just seven to play, essentially ending that race.
Here are a few takeaways from Wednesday’s showdown:

Defense, defense, defense
For the second night in a row, the Warriors showcased how dominant their defense can be. After holding the Rockets to a season-low for 3-pointers on Tuesday, the Dubs came right back and absolutely shut down the Spurs over the final three quarters, holding them to just 65 points. Golden State was hounding the Spurs’ ball handlers, contesting nearly every shot and forcing turnovers. Over their nine-game winning streak, the Warriors’ defensive rating is now an astounding 95.7, and they don’t even have Kevin Durant back yet. Good luck scoring against this team in the playoffs when the intensity ratchets up and players are even more locked in on the defensive end.

The Warriors’ bench can be a difference-maker
In order to sign Kevin Durant, the Warriors sacrificed some experienced bench players. Leandro Barbosa went back to Phoenix and Marreese Speights joined the Clippers. The Warriors still have Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, but the Warriors’ bench has averaged just under 32 points a game, placing the unit 21st in the league.

Wednesday, the bench poured in 45 points, including a combined 29 from Iguodala and David West. Expecting 15 points every night from West is unrealistic, and he may never score that many points again as a Warrior, but when Golden State gets this kind of production from its reserves, the Dubs are nearly impossible to beat, as their starters average a league-best 83.9 points.

To illustrate the importance of their bench, in the Warriors’ 61 wins, they’ve gotten an average of 33.2 points per game from their reserves; in their 14 losses, the bench has averaged just 26.3 points.

Playoff picture
As noted above, the Warriors now have a 3 1/2 game lead over the Spurs for the top spot in the West. Despite the Spurs holding the tiebreaker, the Warriors have all but locked up homecourt advantage for the Western Conference playoffs. With the Warriors boasting a league-best 31-4 record at home, this is of huge importance. Any team that hopes to beat them in the postseason will now have to go into Oracle Arena and win at least once.

The re-emergence of Pau Gasol
The Spurs didn’t get the win Wednesday night, but that was through no fault of Pau Gasol, who put up 18 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. He even hit JaVale McGee with a few between-the-legs crossover moves. Between-the-legs crossovers! From Pau Gasol! In addition to this game against the Warriors, Gasol has been impressive since his return from a fractured hand. In 18 games, Gasol is averaging 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds while establishing himself as a legitimate threat from behind the arc. Since coming back, Gasol is shooting 60 percent from downtown on 2.5 attempts per night.

Warriors' win over Spurs means more than it appears

SAN ANTONIO — There was a reason Steve Kerr referred to this place as a "lion’s den."

The night before his Golden State Warriors took a huge step toward earning the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference — downing the San Antonio Spurs 110-98 at the AT&T Center that had been such a haunted house for them through all these years and giving themselves a 3½-game lead with seven to go — the coach who knows all too well about this opponent’s mystique roared about the organization that has been king of the NBA jungle five times since 1999.

"I love that we’re going down into San Antonio, into the lion’s den," Kerr, who won two of his five championships as a player while suiting up for those Gregg Popovich-led Spurs, had said after the Warriors beat the Rockets in Houston on Tuesday. "It keeps going. We’ve got Houston again (on Friday), Washington coming up (on Sunday). This is great for us, to be challenged as we head for the playoffs."

What a way to plop into the catbird seat, the Warriors falling behind 23-3 just seven minutes into play only to hit the offensive afterburners from there and torch the Spurs on their way out of town. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson caught fire after that horrific start, hitting four 3s apiece and combining for 52 points.

Draymond Green (four points, six rebounds, three assists) continued his Defensive Player of the Year pursuit, leading the group that held the Spurs to 41% shooting and stifling MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard on his 7-for-20 shooting night (19 points, five turnovers). David West (15 point, four rebounds, five assists in 22 minutes) and Andre Iguodala (14 points, six rebounds) were fantastic off the bench.

And what an important statement for Golden State to make.

It’s awfully strange to ponder this notion that a team of this ilk could still have at least one foot in another’s shadow, but that just might be the case here. Even with all their historic success in Kerr’s three seasons, the back-to-back Finals appearances and 60-plus regular-season wins every time out, the Spurs are still the mystery they simply must solve, in large part, because they never took a direct hit when it mattered most.

In 2014-15, when Kerr’s debut campaign was a start-to-finish joy ride for their lovable lot, the Spurs loomed large as the hottest team around in the second half of the season. They’d won 21 of 24 games entering their regular-season finale, only to fall to New Orleans, slide to the sixth spot and face off against a Clippers team that downed them in seven games in the first round.

The silver-and-black bullet had been dodged.

It happened again last season, when the Spurs won a franchise-record 67 games and landed the No. 2 seed but fell to Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round. In the here and the now, the Warriors — who were routed by San Antonio in the season opener and routed again when both teams' stars were out in the March 11 matchup — had no evidence to suggest that they were well-equipped to handle this version of the Spurs.

Until now.

The cherry on top, from their viewpoint? It happened without Durant, whose late regular-season return is nearing after the Feb. 28 left knee injury that seemed to threaten the Warriors’ push. The ubiquitous mental edge, in other words, resides firmly in their corner now.

It’s a strange truth to process, this idea that a team of this caliber might still be in anyone else’s shadow. But anyone who doubts it underestimates the degree to which the Warriors and the rest of the NBA respects this storied group.

The faces have changed, of course, with David Robinson passing the torch to Tim Duncan and then Kawhi Leonard from there when it comes to the centerpiece players. Ditto for the co-stars who surrounded them. But the totality of their accomplishments, this remarkable run that Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford have had such a steady hand in, is the kind of thing that leaves modern-day players agreeing on one universal truth: the Spurs are a force to never be taken lightly, a "well-oiled machine," as LeBron James called them on Sunday after his Cavs were embarrassed 103-74 in this very same building.

"When David Robinson retired, that’s really when Manu Ginobili and Tony (Parker) took ownership of the team," Kerr reflected before tip-off. "It wasn’t just Tim Duncan. You had these two guards who are so dynamic. So then Timmy gets older, and Manu and Tony are all of a sudden in their last couple years, and the Spurs trade for Kawhi on draft night (in 2012) and sign (LaMarcus) Aldridge, which are the cornerstones now.

"That’s the key. Obviously it’s great coaching and player development. They’ve had a lot of guys who have just gotten better and better, undrafted players or second-round players who have contributed. But if you don’t have the cornerstones, nothing matters. So the Kawhi deal and getting Aldridge has allowed this thing to keep going, to keep moving.”

If only for a night, the Warriors brought the mighty Spurs to a standstill.

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