What do we have to look forward to now? The first round of the playoffs?
The Warriors jumped out to a big first quarter lead, maintained their blistering speed and intensity, and expanded the lead until it became big enough to rest the starters in the fourth quarter. Familiar story, right? Except this time they routed the San Antonio Spurs, 120-90, in what was supposed to be the greatest, most important game of the regular season.
The Spurs have played defense at a historically great level this season, allowing just 90 points per game. The Warriors had 95 points through three quarters. But don’t call this a statement game.
“People are going to try and say we made a statement, then they’re gonna say they didn’t have Tim Duncan, when at the end of the day, neither one of them matters,” said Draymond Green.
“They’re still a good team without Timmy, and this win means nothing but one win in the win column.”
It didn’t look like just another game, or win, at the beginning, when Stephen Curry dazzled the crowd (and the Spurs). He scored from everywhere and collected three steals before the first quarter was done. The Warriors forced 25 turnovers, proving they aren’t too bad defensively themselves.
“Our communication defensively was excellent tonight. Draymond and Bogut work really well together. San Antonio executes better than anybody in the league. Every cut is a hard one and every screen is a solid one. The ball really moves side-to-side and they use a lot of deception, so if you aren’t communicating you are going to get beat,” said Steve Kerr.
“I thought Draymond set the tone with his defense. This was the first time he’s ever asked me to come out of a game. It’s never happened since I’ve been here. It was late in the first quarter. He was really tired. That was the effort he was putting forth.”
Just another game, eh?
“I was just trying to keep a body on LaMarcus. Everywhere he moved I tried to keep a body on him. Cause I know, once he gets in rhythm, he’s hard to stop,” said Green. “In that period I switched to Kawhi, tried to hawk him for a few plays, and after that I was dead.”
San Antonio’s big offseason acquisition, LaMarcus Aldridge, was held to 5 points on 2-for-9 shooting and registered a game-low -20 (Green was a game-high +29). The Spurs’ MVP candidate, Kawhi Leonard, fared a bit better (16 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), but also committed a few turnovers and was unable to reverse the course of the game late in the first quarter when he started guarding Curry. It seemed like an unbeatable piece of strategy when the Spurs routed the Warriors near the end of last season in Texas, but the defensive switch registered little to no effect on Monday night in Oakland.
“Steph embraces any challenge and I think he took it as a challenge, but it was our night and it wasn’t theirs. What does that mean? I don’t know,” said Kerr.
Yeah, it’s impossible to know what it means for the Warriors and Spurs. But this game — actually, this week — was a signal to the rest of the league. The Warriors are not just the defending champs. No one is currently close to them, and 72 is in play. So is going undefeated at Oracle Arena.
“That’s not a goal that we state ‘hey, let’s go undefeated,’ but … we always say we gotta protect our home floor. And doing that, if you can go undefeated, that’s definitely what we want to do,” said Green, who said he and his teammates “never” talk about going after the magic number.
“We only got four losses, so that’s on the table, but it’s not on our radar.”
Well, it’s on our radar now. And Curry is a near-lock for MVP unless things change drastically between now and April. He finished with 37 points on 20 shots in less than 29 minutes.
“I knew before the game, I knew yesterday he was ready to go,” said Green. “When he hit that three from like 37 feet out, it (was) confirmed.”
Some people — usually writers and fans who support other teams — have called the Warriors “arrogant,” and it appears Golden State has embraced this description.
“We’re a pretty cocky group,” Kerr said with a smile. “They are. In a good way, though. They corral that arrogance. And they believe. They believe they’re going to win. Sometimes that hurts us if we’re not focused, when we start trying to do crazy things. But when we’re locked in and focused and making smart decisions, then that confidence is a big help to us.”
Green, do you agree?
“100%,” he said. “We believe in ourselves. At the end of the day, that’s all ‘cocky’ is, it’s believing in yourself. We’ve always been that way, we’re going to continue to be that way, and the better you get, the more that confidence grows and belief grows.”
It’s not just about belief, though. The Warriors weren’t just better than the Spurs; their personality differences were on full display. Curry was pumping his fist after and-ones and hopping like he thought gravity might leave Oracle for a brief period after nailing another three (he made 6-of-9, because of course he did).
The Warriors may model a lot of what they do on what the Spurs did and continue to do, but they aren’t the Spurs. Both teams play the right way, but the Warriors embrace the joy that comes from letting everyone know how much fun they’re having, and they include each other and the crowd in that exuberance. However, they wouldn’t be having so much fun if they weren’t winning, and they’ve gone 124-24 since Kerr took over (including the playoffs).
“Steve’s a different animal. He exudes a lot of confidence and he instills it. A lot of people can’t do that. There’s no formula for it. Having Steve back is very, very, very significant for that club, that group of guys,” said Gregg Popovich during his pregame media session.
— Here’s Green’s full postgame interview. Usually I chop these up for those with shorter attention spans (which pretty much includes all of us), but the entire thing was good so I’m dropping all six minutes here.
— The Warriors’ bench outplayed the Spurs, and Golden State’s second unit was led by Shaun Livingston (13 points on 6-of-6 shooting) and Brandon Rush (13 points on 5-of-6 shooting).
I asked Kerr about the evolution in Livingston’s game since joining the team.
“He’s always had this talent and this level of skill, but the difference between this year and last was health. Last year, if you remember, he came into camp and he couldn’t play. He had a toe injury. He really didn’t even join us until the end of the exhibition season. And this year he came in fully healthy and confident, and it showed. He’s having a tremendous season. Just a joy to be around every day. A guy everybody wants to play with, because he’s a brilliant passer and playmaker. But his offense has been really good for us this year. He gives us a low post game that’s been really important for us.”
— Popovich after the game: “We almost got them. My opening comment here will be I’m just glad my general manager wasn’t in the locker room, because it might have gotten me fired.”
“It was like men and boys out there tonight … We’ve got a long way to go to play with those guys.”
— Kerr on getting his first technical of the season: “I’m back. I was actually worried about getting tossed. That wouldn’t have looked good. No, I deserved it.”
Yeah, he definitely deserved it.