SAN ANTONIO – When asked about the prospects of his band of wounded Warriors getting up off the floor following a 109-91 haymaker to win two straight games, Golden State coach Mark Jackson didn’t blink.
“It’s doable,” he said.
So is juggling chainsaws while walking across a greased high wire.
The trick now for the Warriors, darlings of the 2013 playoffs, is not just to reignite the shooting spark in their backcourt, rediscover the offensive harmony that comes from sharing the ball, cutting down on turnovers and restart the defensive intensity that cuts off penetration into the lane, but to do it all while limping.
Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut have been like sculpted sand castles at the beach in this Western Conference semifinal series, their games steadily eroding with the passage of time. It’s not a failure or shortage of will, but reality when a couple of bum ankles limit Curry to 4-for-14 shooting and Bogut to just 19 1/2 minutes of playing time in Game 5.
With Bogut’s motion and ability to pound away on the inside limited, the Warriors are missing the rim protector, shot alterer and jostler who kept the Spurs away from the basket in the first two games.
With Curry’s left ankle weakened, the Spurs have gone on the attack offensively, trying to run the ball right at him and through him, which has worn him out and cut into his effectiveness at the offensive end.
Toss in David Lee making a reappearance in the rotation with a torn hip flexor and you have a big man who was never known for his defensive skills being even more of a liability on the floor.
So it is that Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack have had to shoulder more of the load and it is taking a toll, along with the defense of San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard on Klay Thompson.
Things got so bad on Tuesday night that in a series that has been known for unexpected and improbable last comebacks, Jackson chose to play the final 8-plus minutes with Curry and Bogut sitting on the bench.
“It got to a point where they had made plays and we hadn’t, and I had to look toward Game 6,” Jackson said. “It was just being smart, that’s all.”
But practically bites.
This is a veteran Spurs team that smelled blood in Game 5, and reacted like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Tony Parker pulled up at the rim like he’d been delivered in a stretch limo. Tim Duncan kept right on attacking even though he can’t find his shooting touch. Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Danny Green and Cory Joseph rarely missed a chance to make something happen. And the often inexplicable Manu Ginobili poked at the Warriors wound until it burst open.
Over in the Eastern Conference bracket, the injuries piled up high enough on the Bulls until what’s left of the disparate parts could muster up only 65 points on Tuesday night. The Warriors are not that broken, but the cracks are evident and sometimes you just come to the end of the road.
The Warriors, who are 4-0 after losses in these playoffs, will be back at home Thursday night at the earsplitting Oracle to face elimination for the first time this spring. But for the first time in their entertaining and inspirational run, the Warriors also looked worn down if not worn out in Game 5.
“You hope not,” Curry said. “I don’t think that’s in anybody’s head right now.”
It’s not the heads that should worry the Warriors, but those sore ankles and other aching body parts that seem to be finally leading to an inevitable end.