SAN ANTONIO – This is not merely about Stephen Curry looking like the deadeye love child of Annie Oakley and William Tell one night and Klay Thompson turning into a heat-seeking missile the next.
It’s about shooting, yes, because it’s what they do. Shooting from the gaps and shooting over outstretched arms. Shooting a running, one-footed 3-pointer with the dour expression of an English butler on your face and shooting a fallaway heave in front of the opponents’ bench to beat the third quarter horn. Shooting late in the shot clock to bail out a possession gone wrong and shooting early in the shot clock because, well, you just feel like it.
It’s also about pressuring the ball out front, squeezing the penetrators into the lane, cutting off the paths on the baseline and protecting the rim as if it were the Holy Grail.
While all of the postgame highlights and most of the headlines about their first victory in San Antonio since the Mexican flag flew over Texas will concentrate on Thompson’s deep ball barrage, the Warriors got this Western Conference semifinal series to 1-1 because they played ferocious, high-energy, unforgiving defense.
It’s like finding out that Kate Upton can cook, too.
“Our shooters, Steph and Klay, are amazing,” said center Andrew Bogut, “but we like to think our defense is consistent.”
It consistently chased Spurs point guard Tony Parker. When Thompson wasn’t pushing the limits of credulity with his 8-for-9 shooting from behind the arc and his ridiculous 29-point first half, he was the one sinking his teeth into Parker.
“I told him at halftime, that is in the discussion of one of the greatest halves ever,” said Golden State coach Mark Jackson. “Not only what he did offensively, but what he did defensively. If you slow it down and see the multiple plays and the attention to detail defensively, he is playing a future Hall of Famer and he’s making him work for everything.”
That’s been the difference in the first two games so far — the Spurs keep looking like they’re laboring for everything on offense and the Warriors might as well be cruising the court on roller skates.
When the Spurs survived the Game 1 double-overtime epic while shooting just 42 percent, the conventional line of thinking was that they wouldn’t do that again. So they didn’t, because the Warriors wouldn’t let them. They shot just 39 percent in Game 2 because every San Antonio guard, forward and center who tried to get off a shot usually found a hand or two or three in his face. Many of the Spurs 3-pointers were hurried, their mid-range shots challenged and attempted layups were met with unrelenting defiance.
“You can talk all about our impressive 3-point shooting,” said Draymond Green, who nailed a rally-buster from the left wing with 6:40 left in the game. “But if you get right down to it, we held them to 23 points in the first quarter and 20 in the second and that’s where this game was won.”
Rather than hang their heads over the missed opportunity in the series opener, the Warriors took it as a challenge to prove that they could do it again. They are young, long, alive and hungry. Bogut especially guards the rim as if it were a bank vault and the help he gets from Carl Landry, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli is making a normally efficient Spurs offense look like something that’s been thrown together.
Parker’s darting drives to the hoop were met with swatting hands. Tim Duncan missed layups and tip-ins. Manu Ginobili took off on several of his hellbent drives through the lane and on several occasions wound up looking foolish as he missed badly and wound up flailing on the floor. Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Gary Neal found themselves trapped and flustered close to the rim. Early in the fourth quarter, Tiago Splitter missed a point blank dunk because about four different hands were in his face. Then, Parker missed the follow. That the Spurs had assists on just 14 of their 35 baskets was a testament to the way Golden State took them out of their normal rhythm.
“We did a pretty poor job of moving the ball,” Ginobili said. “We played too much 1-on-1 and we held the ball for too long.”
The ball “stuck” in the Spurs hands because the Warriors were always a half-step ahead in their defensive rotations, cut off passing lanes, did not allow the ball to move from one side of the court to the other. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around and the Spurs were trying to pull off another miracle, they were so befuddled that they simply fell back on hoisting 3-pointers, even on a night when they were making only 5 of 21.
“Of course, watching Steph and Klay shoot the ball like they have for the past two games is nothing new to us,” said Bogut. “We see it all the time in practice. They’re both the kind of guys who, whether they’re 0-for-10 or 10-for-10 in a game, you know they’re not going to hesitate about shots 11, 12 or 13.
“You go with those streaks. You ride those waves. Then you go home and turn on the TV and watch and listen to everybody talk about the shots they made. And most of the time nobody talks about what happens at the other end.”
It’s about shooting the ball, yes, and just how hard the Warriors can make that for the other guys.x