2013 Conference Semis: Spurs-Warriors

The Plays That Got Them Here

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MIAMI – The most important play in a game isn’t always the one you remember most. Sometimes, it’s subtle and doesn’t even make the highlight reel. Sometimes, something as simple as a change in possession can be more important than a shot that does or doesn’t go in.

The NBA has a way to use analytics to figure out just which plays had the biggest impact on a close game. It’s a “leverage” model that was developed to evaluate and instruct referees by pointing out which calls or no-calls had the biggest impact on a game’s result.

Here’s the idea: At every point of a game, each team has a certain probability of winning. Putting the quality of each team to the side, when the game tips off, the home team has a 60 percent probability of winning and the road team has a 40 percent probability of winning. After the first basket, those numbers haven’t changed much. But if the home team is up 10 with the ball and five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, their win probability (WP) is obviously a lot greater than 60 percent.

So, by calculating win probability both before and after a play occurs, it can be determined just how important that play was. Score, possession and location are the factors. And obviously, plays in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter (or overtime) in a close game are more important than any others.

Using the league’s data model, we’ve determined the 10 most important plays made by the Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs on their way to The Finals.

10. +18.7 percent – Conference semis, Game 5 – Heat get multiple stops on the Bulls’ final possession.
With 26 seconds left, Miami up by three (94-91) and Chicago in possession, Miami had an 81.3 percent WP. After the inbounds, Nate Robinson advanced the ball and attempted a 3-pointer with 18 seconds on the clock that was contested by Norris Cole. Just before the shot, Miami had a slightly better chance of winning (83.6 percent) than at the start of the possession because eight seconds had run off the clock.

Had Robinson’s shot gone in, Miami’s WP would have dropped to 60.3 percent (about -20 percent) with the tie, possession and about 18 seconds left. Instead, the shot missed and the Bulls got the rebound. With just three seconds left, they set up Jimmy Butler for another 3-point attempt to tie.

At that point, Miami’s WP was up to 95.5 percent, but had Butler’s shot gone in as time expired, sending the game to overtime, Miami’s WP would have been cut from 81.3 percent at the start of the possession to about 58.3 percent at the start of OT (-30%). Instead, the shot missed the series was over.

9. +18.9 percent – Conference semis, Game 1 – Boris Diaw hits a three with 2:27 left in the first overtime
With 2:49 left in the first OT, Diaw rebounds a Draymond Green shot that could have given the Warriors a five-point lead. With possession and down three (111-108), the Spurs WP was 28.1 percent. After they advance the ball and swing it around, Manu Ginobili drives into the paint, draws Diaw’s defender, and hits him in the corner for an open three. Diaw drains it, increasing the Spurs’ WP to 46.9 percent. They went on to win in double-OT.

8. +19.0 percent – Conference semis, Game 1 – Dwyane Wade’s steal sets up LeBron James’ three-point play.
With 7:18 left in the fourth quarter, Miami leading Chicago 70-69. and the Bulls in possession, the Heat had a WP of 57.4 percent. At 7:07, Wade steals a pass from Marco Belinelli, increasing Miami’s WP to 64.8%. That’s a jump of +7.3 percent just for the change of possession. But Wade then gets the ball to James, who is grabbed around the shoulders by Butler and still manages to hit a shot with his left hand at 7:04. He makes the free throw, increasing Miami’s WP to 76.5 percent. But the Bulls would come back to win the game, 93-86.

7. +20.9 percent – Conference finals, Game 1 – Chris Bosh gets an and-one tip-in
With 1:20 to go in overtime, Miami is down 99-96 when James rebounds a Lance Stephenson miss. At that point, their WP is 24.5 percent. Bosh misses a three, but James gets the offensive board and sets up Shane Battier for another three. At that point, the Heat’s WP is down to 23.3 percent.

Battier misses, but Bosh rises over Roy Hibbert, gets fouled by Paul George, and tips in the miss. The tip-in with no foul would have increased Miami’s WP 32.8 percent, but when Bosh ties the game with the free throw, Miami’s WP increased to 45.4 percent, for a total possession increase of 20.9%. The Heat went on to win with a play that’s further down this list.

6. +21.3 percent – Conference finals, Game 1 – Cole steals inbounds pass
This was a judgement call as to whether there was a change of possession, because Cole never really had control of the ball, but the scorer tallied it as two successive turnovers.

With the Pacers down three and 10.8 seconds left in OT, George Hill drops the inbounds pass and Cole gets his hands on it. There’s a scramble for the ball at the mid-court line and Hill gets the ball back. He gets it to George, who is fouled by Wade on a 3-point attempt.

Before the play, the Heat’s WP was 71.8 percent, and the first change of possession increased it to 93.1 percent.

5. +22.5 percent – Conference semis, Game 1 – Diaw steal leads to Danny Green lay-up
With the score tied at 111 and 2:08 left in overtime, the Spurs’ WP was 46.6 percent, because the Warriors have possession. But Diaw steals a Draymond Green pass in the lane and gets the ball to Tony Parker, who finds Danny Green for a lay-up with 2:02 left. The steal increased the Spurs’ WP to 59.3 percent and the basket increased it to 69.1 percent.

So Diaw made two huge plays in the Spurs’ Game 1 win over the Warriors. But there were two bigger…

4. +22.6 percent – Conference semis, Game 1 – Danny Green’s three ties the game in regulation



Down three with 29 seconds left, the Spurs’ WP was 22.4 percent. But they run a great misdirection play to get Green an open three from the right wing. He makes it with 20.8 seconds left, increasing their WP to 45.0 percent.

3. +23.6 percent – Conference semis, Game 4 – James’ steal leads to Wade’s three-point play
This one is interesting, because there were still six minutes left in the fourth, but it was essentially a four-point swing, because the Pacers scored about a point per possession in the series.

With the Pacers about to inbound the ball with exactly 6:00 on the clock, the score was tied at 83 and the Heat’s WP was just 41.9 percent (because they were on the road and didn’t have possession). But James steals George’s awful inbounds pass and gets the ball to Wade, who gets fouled by David West and goal-tended by George.

The steal itself increased Miami’s WP to 50.5 percent and the three-point put it at 65.5 percent. But the Pacers would recover and win the game.

2. +61.3 percent – Conference semis, Game 1 – Ginobili’s three wins it in double-OT



With the Spurs down one with 3.4 seconds left, their WP was 35.7 percent. Ginobili’s three left 1.2 seconds on the clock, but increased their WP to 97.0 percent.

1. +77.6 percent – Conference finals, Game 1 – James’ game-winner



From 22.4 percent to 100 percent.

Spurs Stand Tall Despite Sitting Duncan

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Gregg Popovich manages Tim Duncan’s minutes all season long as if he were a pastry chef baking a souffle. Too long in the oven and everything can fall flat.

“It’s what we do,” says the Spurs coach.

Except how many coaches would do it with a two-point lead in the final 4 1/2 minutes of a close-out game in a playoff series that always seemed on edge?

But there were a couple of weak jumpers that seemed to come off tired legs and then an absent-minded crosscourt pass that nearly took the bald head right off the shoulders of referee Joey Crawford and wound up in the stands.

So that’s how Duncan came to watch the final scenes of his 200th career playoff game, a 94-82 win over the Warriors that put his Spurs back into the Western Conference finals.

“I don’t think he was giving me a break,” Duncan said, ruefully smiling and shaking his head. “I think I had played three or four pretty bad minutes in a row and he decided to go with something else.

“It is what it is and we were able to finish the series. I wish I could be out there, but honestly the way we playing and the way we finished it was the right move. So I’m happy for it.”

It is what it is and the Spurs are what they are, which is a more experienced, more mature, just plain better team than the one that bolted to a 2-0 lead over Oklahoma City in the conference finals in 2012 and then was steamrolled out in four straight defeats.

They’re a team that could have Tony Parker make only 1 of his first 13 shots and survive. They’re a team that could have Manu Ginobili go 1-for-6 and still advance. They’re a team that could have their 14-time NBA All-Star Duncan get the hook in the clutch and still go into the next round against the rugged Grizzlies as the team to beat.

“Oh, it won’t be pretty,” Duncan said looking ahead to the mud-wrestling match with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. But then again, neither was this and yet the Spurs somehow made it look like a work of art.

Maybe nobody but Popovich could have gotten away with sitting Duncan down at that critical point in the game. After Stephen Curry hit a jumper from the key to cut the Spurs’ lead to 77-75, Duncan made his wildly inaccurate pass and the Oracle crowd rose for one last deafening roar.

“I just made that choice,” Popovich said.

Probably no superstar of his stature would have accepted the seat on the bench with Duncan’s aplomb.

“Of course, as a player you want to be in there competing,” he said. “But you had other guys in there getting the job done, so it was obviously the thing to do.”

It is that union of coach and star, that steadiness that has enabled the Spurs to advance to the Conference finals for the eighth time — with four championships already — in Duncan’s career.

There was a time — just two years ago — when the Spurs were the No. 1 seed in the West and were unceremoniously run out of the playoffs by the No. 8-seeded Grizzlies. It was a series when Duncan limped in on a bad ankle, Ginobili played with what was later found to be a fractured elbow and the Spurs’ bench faltered. So Popovich chose to roll the dice with last-gasp veteran Antonio McDyess over a rookie named Tiago Splitter.

Two seasons later, Splitter was hitting 6 of 8 shots, scoring 14 points, grabbing four rebounds and holding his own on the inside of the defense while Duncan became a spectator.

Duncan and Ginobili are older now, but the Spurs are deeper with Splitter, Danny Green and the quietly deadly force of Kawhi Leonard stepping up. They’re a team that can see the in-full-bloom Parker miss 12 of his first 13 shots in the game and be confident that he’ll make the right choices and hit the big shots when needed.

Ginobili won the incredible double-overtime Game 1 of the series by hitting the game-winning shot on a night when he was 5-for-20 from the field. And even though he could hardly find the basket in Game 6, twice in the last three minutes, he drove toward the hoop, drew the defense to him and delivered perfect passes into the left corner that produced treys from Parker and Leonard.

The Spurs’ core that looked old and tired the last time they faced Memphis in the playoffs is older now, yet playing spryer because Popovich is so diligent about managing those minutes. However, there is also fresh blood running through those veins in Leonard, Green and Splitter that makes much of what’s happening this season possible.

Even stunning things like Duncan watching from the bench in the close-out stretch of a close-out game and nobody thinking twice.

It’s what they do.

Fighting The Odds But Keeping The Faith

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OAKLAND, Calif. — After spending the last four weeks pushing credulity to the limits with some of the shooting performances by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, now the Warriors stand at the brink.

For the first time in the playoffs, Golden State’s Cinderella story approaches the stroke of midnight with the Spurs holding a 3-2 lead going into tonight’s Game 6 at the Oracle.

But that doesn’t mean the Warriors are thinking that their time has run out.

“This is one of those games where you win or you go home, almost like an NCAA tournament game,” said forward Carl Landry. “We have to go out there and not take any possessions off, and after the game, we shouldn’t have anything left. We shouldn’t be able to walk to our cars. It should all be left on the court.”

The cold, raw numbers say that in all previous best-of-seven NBA series that were tied at 2-2, the team that took Game 5 went on to win 83.3 percent of the time. The Spurs, of course won Game 5 in a 109-91 rout.

The last time the Warriors franchise faced an elimination game at home was in the first round of the 1994 playoffs. That’s a generation ago and it means nothing to this bunch that coach Mark Jackson says has “been touched by the hand of God.”

These Warriors have not lost back-to-back games so far in the playoffs, showing an ability to regroup every time they’ve been knocked down. So even with the mobility of Curry and center Andrew Bogut limited by injured left ankles, they’re believing.”

“I’m not worried about my guys,” Jackson said. “If you would have rewound this thing all the way back to Day 1 and said we’d have a Game 6 at home in the second round of the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs after defeating the No. 3 seed (Denver), we would have taken it.

“So we’re thrilled about where we are. We don’t want our backs against the wall, but this is where we are today. It’s as simple of putting together 96 minutes of our brand of basketball.”

– Series hub: Spurs vs. Warriors

Wounded Warriors Running On Empty

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.

Series hub: Spurs vs. Warriors

Spurs’ Leonard Making Own Splash


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SAN ANTONIO – Sometimes young players make a splash in the playoffs.

That was Stephen Curry and Klay Thompsonthe Splash Brothers — in their postseason baptism, doing jack knives, double flips and triple twists off the high board.

It was the kind of how-did-they-do-that act that left you shaking your head when you weren’t picking your jaw up off the floor as you figured you were maybe getting a glimpse of the way basketball should be played in the 21st century.

Sometimes young players have to wade into the deep end of the pool.

That was Kawhi Leonard, whose next splash will be his first, easing into the water from his ankles up to his knees up to his hips, the old-fashioned way.

A year ago, Leonard wasn’t ready. Not when the Spurs reached the Western Conference finals against the Thunder and suddenly he was swimming with the sharks. There were critical plays that he was physically capable of making, but the rookie who did not have the benefit of a training camp in the abbreviated lockout season, wasn’t sure enough to assert himself on a veteran-laden roster.

Warriors coach Mark Jackson has called Curry and Thompson “the best shooting backcourt in the history of the game” and anyone who saw them practically set fire to the AT&T Center in the first two games of this series had little ammunition to argue otherwise.

However, since Game 1, neither Curry or Thompson has made better than 50 percent of his shots. In the past four games, Curry has shot 7-20, 5-17, 7-15 and 4-14, while Thompson has hit on 13-26, 7-20, 5-13 and 2-8. That’s a combined 50-for-133 (.375), as the Splash Brothers haven’t been able to throw it in the ocean.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich raised a few eyebrows last summer when he said that Leonard would eventually be “the face of the Spurs.”

That would seem to be a heavy lift on a roster that still includes three likely Hall of Famers in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Yet here are the Spurs holding a 3-2 series lead after a 109-91 thumping of the Warriors on Tuesday night and there was Leonard up to his neck in all of it.

At one end of the floor, Leonard is as efficient and deadly as a shark, connecting on 7 of 8 shots — 3-for-4 on deep balls — to ring up 17 points to go with his seven rebounds. He can hit impossible-looking corner 3s from behind the backboard and finish with a thunderbolt dunk over Harrison Barnes. At the other end, his defense on Thompson (and occasionally Curry) couldn’t be more smothering if he used a wet blanket.

“He made some big shots for us,” Duncan said. “When they made runs, he made some huge 3s for us. Defensively, he was great. His length is just huge for us and being able to contest from the side and from behind those, it makes them uncomfortable.”

Leonard fits in so comfortably on the floor and in the locker room that there are times when it’s easy not to notice him. He usually dresses and bolts after games before the media even arrives at his locker. On the occasions when he is hemmed in by the notebooks and cameras, he squeezes out words as if he is expected to pay for each one.

But there was a reason why Popovich was able and willing to cut veteran Stephen Jackson from the team just a week before the regular season’s end. Yes, Jackson’s play had taken a dive. He was shooting just 28 percent on 3s, which did not gibe with Capt. Jack’s opinion of himself.

The question was whether Popovich and the Spurs would miss Jackson defensively when they ran into a red hot scorer or two, the kind that needs to be jostled, rattled and knocked off his rhythm.

This time last spring, Popovich was hoping that Leonard could one day grow into that dependable game-changer. Now he is there. Leonard might not yet be “the face of the Spurs,” but he’s a got a nose for the ball. On a team where managing the playing time of the thirtysomething crowd is as much a part of the game as dribbling and shooting, it is no coincidence that Leonard topped out in minutes on the Spurs’ box score with 37 in Game 5 and is averaging more (38.2) than anyone on the roster. He is also the legs of the Spurs.

Jackson, of course, concedes nothing has thrown the Splash Brothers off their game.

On Curry: “Didn’t play well.”

On Thompson: “Didn’t play well.”

Since the first two games of the series, the Spurs have been getting up in the face and the space of the Warriors’ shooters. They have been running them off the 3-point line. They have been doing it with double-teams that come at different times and from different angles.

They have been doing it by turning more responsibility over to the taciturn Leonard, who has grown into the role and grown comfortable in the deep water of the playoffs.

Seems there is more than one way to make a splash.

Bogut Effect Is Troubling To Spurs

 

SAN ANTONIO – It’s easy to see the impact of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson flying around the court and flinging in shots that often defy description and sometimes the imagination.

There have been nights in this Western Conference semifinal playoff series between the Warriors and Spurs that no special kind of defense could have stopped or even slowed down the youthful Golden State backcourt.

But if there is another reason that the upstart Golden State team has the series tied at 2-2 going into Game 5 tonight at the AT&T Center (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT), it is down in the trenches. That’s where Andrew Bogut lives and thrives.

While Curry and Thompson have gotten all the headlines, it’s the Warriors center who seems to have gotten under the skin and into the comfort zone of the Spurs’ Tim Duncan. The Spurs All-Star is shooting 41 percent from the field in the series and was a horrid 7-for-22 in Game 4, missing his final five shots and 10 of his final 12 when San Antonio missed an opportunity to take a stranglehold 3-1 lead.

Consider the following stats on Bogut:

  • The Warriors are allowing 18.5 fewer points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court this series.
  • The Warriors are outscoring the Spurs by 16.3 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court this series.
  • The Spurs are shooting 40.5 percent when he’s on the court, 44.4 percent when not.

All of this from a player who was so frustrated by missing 50 regular season games due to injuries that he said he considered retiring.

If the Warriors hope to take control of this series, they’ll need to find a way to keep Bogut in the game. The big man has been effective when he’s played, but in two out of three games, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has fouled him intentionally and it’s gotten Warriors coach Mark Jackson to put him on the bench.

Bogut went 1-for-6 from the foul line in Game 2 and just 1-for-4 from the line in Game 3. While Bogut’s inability to make foul shots is a weakness, it might be one Jackson has to find a way to live with since he is the one who is disrupting the Spurs offense so much.

With Bogut clogging the paint and also pulling down 18 rebounds in Game 4, the Spurs shot just 35 percent from the field, 25.9 percent on 3-pointers and 56 percent from the free-throw line for their worst all-around shooting game since Nov. 21, 1997, the 11th game of Duncan’s career.

So while most eyes — and many of the oohs and aahs — will be directed at the flamboyant shooting skills of Curry and Thompson tonight, the real place to look for control of the game is inside, where Bogut has made his presence felt.

Series hub: Spurs vs. Warriors

Golden State Wins Also Building Blocks

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OAKLAND – They stood in the locker room on a victorious Sunday and talked about what it meant for this series and the entire playoffs — and also about what it really meant.

A 2-2 tie against San Antonio is an accomplishment to be sure, overcoming body parts that seem ready to come unhinged and a lack of experience at this level of the playoffs, but this has just become about something bigger than the Western Conference semifinals for Golden State. Doing more than surviving, in particular grinding out an overtime win Sunday as bad health and a gasping offense and foul trouble threatened to doom them, and a comeback win at that – that’s about years.

Some Warriors’ veterans delivered the message in the aftermath of the 97-87 victory at Oracle Arena, and they were right. That was the kind of win, and now the kind of series, that could end up being a big-picture moment for something much larger than Game 5 on Wednesday in San Antonio.

For all the experience in the locker room – Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack, Richard Jefferson with a smaller role on the court, even Stephen Curry in his fourth season – youth is everywhere. Klay Thompson is in his second campaign, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green in their first, and another rookie ordinarily out of the rotation, Kent Bazemore, was used late in regulation and the second overtime of Game 1.

The Warriors believe that, in some way, overcoming adversity to grind out a tie against the Spurs counts for something beyond 2012-13. It has all become so unlikely that there must be some carryover effect that will become a benefit in future seasons. The wins may be more than wins.

Sunday, Curry went from game-time decision to laboring through the first half to playing 39 minutes and contributing 22 points, six rebounds and four assists, his second such miracle recovery of the playoffs. Lee, likely headed for surgery on a torn hip muscle that was supposed to have ended his season after Game 1 of the first round, went eight minutes and said he felt noticeably stronger than two days before. Bogut is less than 100 percent.

“You saw the way he was moving there early in the first quarter,” Lee said of Curry. “The biggest thing is him being on the floor. It’s the same thing I’m trying to accomplish. Him being on the floor is an inspiration to the team. It keeps the defense honest in a lot of situations. This isn’t going to be the last year this team is going to be together. Other guys are seeing that Steph goes out when he’s hurting and plays, seeing that I go out and try to give our team what I can. Guys notice that. It’s not only building for right now and helping us win now, but it’s building for the future as well.”

Not only that, but the Warriors won while shooting 38 percent. The Warriors. The team that has ditched its reputation. If finishing fourth in the league in field-goal defense wasn’t enough, winning playoff games in the trenches is a convincing point.

“That’s something we’ve been preaching the whole season, and it’s come at the right time,” Bogut said. “When we can shoot below 40 percent, that’s probably unheard of in Warriors’ basketball history and win a game. That’s a very important step for us.”

Warriors Score A Win That Defies Description

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OAKLAND, Calif. – The crowd let go for good, in appreciation and probably in exhausted release, with about 40 seconds remaining. It was after Draymond Green corralled the defensive rebound of Tim Duncan‘s miss and the final Spurs threat had been denied. They cheered loudly through the final possessions as the clock drained to zero and fans inside Roar-acle Arena realized this actually would happen.

The Warriors really would use limping Stephen Curry … and hobbling David Lee … and have starting bigs Andrew Bogut and Carl Landry pick up three fouls in the first quarter … and need a loudspeaker to reach Andris Biedrins at the end of the bench to use him in the second quarter of the biggest game in at least six seasons … and come back to beat the Spurs 97-87 in overtime Sunday. All while shooting 38 percent.

Pick a description that fits.

Unlikely? For sure, but maybe too understated. That makes it seems like the Warriors had to overcome an obstacle. This was the day when everything went wrong — health, fouls, offense — until it went so right and they had a 2-2 tie in the best-of-seven series that shifts to San Antonio on Wednesday.

Improbable? That works. Golden State grinded enough and the Spurs also shot poorly enough, at 35.5 percent, that the Warriors were able to stay close. But to say it was clear they had that passing gear in them, not a chance. And yet, they went eight down with 4:49 remaining in the fourth to overtime to outscoring the Spurs 13-3 in overtime as San Antonio went 1-for-10 from the field.

Impossible? Too strong. Because this has become the season, as evidenced again Sunday, when nothing is impossible for the Warriors.

“I don’t know a good adjective to use,” Lee said after thinking for a moment. “But it’s definitely satisfying. That’s a good way to put it.”

Satisfying at the very least. The Warriors couldn’t hit a shot in the first half and had 37 points at the break, but didn’t give in to frustration. They knew they were playing hard and with a sharp focus, unlike the lacking effort two days earlier in the Game 3 loss, and that it was just a matter of getting the same good looks to fall. Eleven players had already been used in the patch job by coach Mark Jackson, including Biedrins, who delivered a hold-the-fort three minutes at center in his first appearance since April 12.

The end result was much more than a victory, as if that wasn’t enough at a time like this. The Warriors didn’t get swamped under by adversity, so they grew some more late in what had already been a season of maturation. Curry went from game-time decision (because of the sprained left ankle) to generating all of three shots in the first half to finishing with 22 points while making 5-for-10 from behind the arc and 7-for-15 overall. So, he had survived. Jarrett Jack went from taking local heat for his decision making as the backup point guard to contributing 12 points in the fourth quarter and overtime and 24 overall. He had endured, too.

“It’s because of who we are,” Jackson said. “This is what these guys have been. This is how hard they’ve worked. This is how they’re committed. It’s a special season for this basketball team and this group of guys, this entire organization and its fan base. We’ve done things that show us when we do ‘em how good we can be. I’m not surprised by anything. One thing I know, this team will not lay down, this team will not quit. It looked dark. It looked awfully dark. But we found a way to get stops and make plays.

“I’ve been talking about this group all year long. I’m just so glad that a national TV audience had an opportunity to see exactly what’s been taking place in this area. Like I said, this is the greatest group of guys I’ve been around. … I [have] a young basketball team that’s got incredible heart. I’m so, so proud of those guys, from the first guy to the last guy. You look at a guy like Biedrins. Called upon, gave us great minutes. I mean, we got an incredible group. People beat up Jarrett Jack. ‘Why is he pounding the ball? Bench him.’ I’m going to go with this group until I’m not here. This is a great group and I’m committed to them, they’re committed to me. Just a big-time win. This is a heck of a series.”

It still is, at 2-2 rather than 3-1 with the Spurs heading home and the Warriors afraid to wonder what else can go wrong because then they would find out. It is a heck of series because only almost everything went bad for Golden State on Sunday. It is because Game 4 actually did happen.

Struggling Ibaka Focused On Game 4

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Serge Ibaka on Sunday delivered a challenge, more to himself than to the tough Memphis Grizzlies’ defense.

“If they play the same defense they play on me like [Game 3],” Ibaka said, “I think next game, it will be a different story.”

The reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder’s survival is dependent on it. Their 6-foot-10 power forward transformed himself into a terrific mid-range shooter this season, a welcomed progression for a team that lost James Harden. But Ibaka has clanged a lot of rim this postseason. The Thunder could make up for it against Houston in the first round, but Memphis is a different animal, and with Kevin Martin also struggling, OKC’s offense, with Kevin Durant accounting for 37.4 percent of the scoring, is grinding its wheels.

Ibaka is missing easy inside looks such as the two dunks in Game 3. He’s missing contested jumpers and he’s missing wide open jumpers.

“I’m trying,” said Memphis forward Zach Randolph, the prime defender on Ibaka when asked if he feels he’s contesting the majority of Ibaka’s jumpers. “But he has missed open shots. He has.”

For the playoffs, Ibaka is 12-for-48 from the outside the paint. In this series alone he is shooting 30.8 percent overall. This from a player that shot a career-best 57.3 percent overall during the regular season and shot better than 50 percent from four of the seven areas recorded on shot charts from outside the key to the 3-point arc. In only one area, from the left wing, did he shoot below 46.9 percent.

After Memphis executed down the stretch to pull out the 87-81 win and take a 2-1 lead in this semifinal series, Durant suggested that Ibaka’s issues are mental.

“We can’t let him put too much pressure on himself. It’s all in his mind,” Durant said. “If he thinks he is going to make those shots, then he is going to make them. I have to pick him up and that is what I have been doing.”

Ibaka didn’t disagree with Durant’s assessment, suggesting that it is normal to have a dip in confidence when the shots aren’t falling. But he said that mechanically he feels fine and that he’s getting shots from spots on the floor that he normally would with Russell Westbrook pushing the tempo and running the halfcourt offense.

“Right now, for me, my focus is on this game,” Ibaka said. “Like people say, if you think about the past you cannot get better in the next one. So I am trying to do the best I can to forget about the last game and be aggressive.”

His shooting slump has not dulled his defensive effort as he takes on the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Randolph, one of the league’s toughest low-post covers. Ibaka held Randolph to eight points on 4-for-12 shooting, and one offensive rebound in Game 3. He has 20 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.

After Randolph blew up the Clippers for 20.8 ppg on 56.8 percent shooting, he’s averaging just 13.8 ppg on 42.5 percent shooting against Ibaka, Nick Collison and at times Kendrick Perkins, who has his hands full mostly with Marc Gasol.

“Serge has missed some easy shots, a couple of layups, a couple of dunks,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “There’s nothing you can do about it but step up to the plate and be ready to do it again. Whether it’s in his head or not, I don’t know. I think if we can get those same shots for him, I believe in the work that he puts in, that he can make his next shot.”

Stephen Curry A Game-Time Decision

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OAKLAND –
Another game, another Stephen Curry ankle injury, another uneasy day of waiting for the latest pivotal medical bulletin.

This has become about hours for the Warriors. Not the time that remains in the season – they still have at least Game 4 at Oracle Arena on Sunday and Game 5 back in San Antonio on Tuesday. But the difference between Curry playing, or at least playing with enough movement for a genuine impact, and Golden State taking the court without its best player could come down to the schedule turn of the playoffs.

“It could,” coach Mark Jackson said Saturday, as the Warriors waited. “But nothing we could do about it now. The clock is ticking. One way or another, we’ll be ready for Game 4.”

A Game 4 that will begin at 12:30. A matinee when the extra hours of the usual night tip off, whether 7:30 p.m. on most occasions or 6 on Sundays, could have helped. All with the knowledge that a loss Sunday will put them behind 3-1 to the tested Spurs.

X-rays on the left ankle, after Curry rolled it with about five minutes left in San Antonio’s Game 3, were negative. He is scheduled for constant treatment, did not practice Saturday and will be re-evaluated Sunday.

The good news for the Warriors is that they have been through this and worse before. Curry sprained the same left ankle – not the one that ruined his 2011-12 and eventually required surgery – in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Nuggets, missed a practice and was a game-time decision after that. And then he played 38 minutes and had 29 points, 11 assists against three turnovers, and six rebounds and made four of seven three-pointers. Jackson insisted afterward the talk of Curry possibly sitting out was not a drama play.

“Once again, we’re back to trusting the process, treatment around the clock and seeing how he is tomorrow,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately, we’ve become veterans at this. But he’s a gamer and no matter what, we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

Curry was not available during the media session Saturday while getting treatment, but he told a pool reporter that the early start is a “little bit” of a concern. “It’s just a shorter turnaround, literally 36 hours from last night. That’s the main concern compared to having three days like I did last time. Just gotta expedite the treatment and stay as consistent as possible.

“If I can give the team anything, I will play. I feel like if I can get to a point where I’m not hobbling and I can cut how I want to. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent, as long as I can be confident that it won’t do any further damage. I have a feeling I’ll be at that point tomorrow, no problem.”

Asked if he thinks he will play, Curry said: “I think so. You never really know how it’s going to feel the next day. You just keep up with the treatment. Same ‘ol story. I have the same answers. I hope it feels good enough to go tomorrow. But until I wake up and see, you just hope for the best right now.”

Tony Parker skipped Spurs practice at about the same time in San Francisco because of a bruised left calf that he said, according to the San Antonio Express News, had swelled to the size of a baseball. The star of Game 3 on Friday with 32 points, including 25 in the first half, said he will play Sunday.