The NBA Playoffs have been boring overall. Is that a hot take? Didn’t think so.
Other than their fans getting several opportunities to watch them dominate against overmatched competition, the boredom has even extended to Warriors games. That is, until today, when Golden State made Oracle as loud as it’s been in several months with a 113-111 Game 1 victory that showed Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant can do a pretty incredible job trading baskets with one another, AND prevail in a (gasp) close game.
It also showed once again how fragile all great teams are, as the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard for most of the second half. Seeing as he had already injured his left ankle severely enough to miss Game 6 of the Western Conference semis, it’s possible Leonard never gets back to anything close to full strength in this series.
It’s a shame, because this series probably would’ve been closer than a lot of people figured with both teams at full strength. However, a big part of the journey is simply getting through every round, every game, every quarter. It’s not like anyone cried for the Warriors last year when Curry couldn’t shake Kevin freaking Love, and it’s not like anyone cried for the Cavs after they lost Love and Kyrie Irving a year earlier.
Wait, I’m getting word that lots of people cried in both scenarios. Oh well. The trophy isn’t given to the team that beats the healthiest opponents, it goes to the team that does enough to win 16 games.
The Warriors have seven victories left to collect.
The playoffs officially began today
The first half of this game was pretty yawn-inducing, only for opposite reasons from what we saw in Golden State’s series against Portland and Utah. It probably didn’t help my tiredness level that the game tipped off as I was shoveling food on my plate at a brunch buffet (which also included all-you-can-guzzle beverages). So, I had to play DVR catch-up after we walked home and I put the two-year-old in bed for her afternoon nap.
(Thanks to the NBA for that little scheduling quirk, by the way. Do they have to make every holiday from December through May a showcase day? Can’t a guy treat his wife to a Mother’s Day meal without hearing someone at the next table wondering aloud how the Warriors could possibly be behind by so many points in the first quarter?)
The first 24 minutes were unlike any we’ve seen from Golden State for weeks, and since it was against the Spurs, a weird feeling started to creep into your brain. Like, maybe everything you thought about the current state of the NBA was actually a mirage, and the Warriors are the same flawed bunch that got blown out by the Spurs on opening night.
OK, maybe it was just my brain, for a split-second. But after watching the Warriors assert themselves in so many first quarters against the Blazers and Jazz, their sloppy and lazy (slazy?) first half was jarring.
If the Warriors aren’t defending — which generally means they aren’t getting much of anything in transition, either — and they’re making a bad pass every few possessions and aren’t hitting threes, a team as good as the Spurs can build a big lead pretty quickly.
When Stephen Curry, who had one of the best playoff performances of his career today, hit a three to cut San Antonio’s lead to 20 (75-55) with less than nine minutes in the third quarter, you could feel one of two ways.
- The Warriors are still down that much? Ugh, it’s not their afternoon.
- There’s no way the Warriors are going down. Not like this, anyway.
Then Kawhi Leonard started awkwardly landing on guys. While the Warriors pulled off a mighty comeback — with Curry’s 40 points doing a lot of the legwork, Kevin Durant’s 12-point fourth quarter (he had 34 overall) cresting the Warriors’ comeback wave, and Curry finishing the job with a 13-foot floater — the Leonard injury is seems more important than all of this.
Did Zaza Pachulia mean to do that?
Likely to be plenty of postgame chatter about Zaza sliding under Kawhi, especially if Warriors win pic.twitter.com/ygSdG01UAq
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 14, 2017
His reaction made it look like he had no idea, but a lot of people thought LeBron James wasn’t trying to goad Draymond Green into doing something stupid in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. It’s possible to do something on purpose and make it look like it was inadvertent.
Not to go all cliche here, but it’s the playoffs. This kind of stuff goes on, which is why teams try to not disclose injuries until they are forced, across all sports. Teams didn’t exactly take it easy on Curry a year ago when he was dealing with multiple lower body injuries.
Pachulia denied any intent to injure, and Leonard said he didn’t think the play was dirty. It’s not like Pachulia looked down and matched his foot to the exact spot where he knew Leonard would land, either. But the timing — 84 seconds after Leonard left the game to get his ankle checked on, because he tweaked it stepping on David Lee’s foot while Lee was on the bench — seemed a little dubious.
Did Pachulia’s foot win the game?
Many Warriors fans would disagree with my thoughts on Pachulia’s intent, but millions more (fans who can’t stand Golden State) would yell at me for this opinion if given the opportunity. But Leonard’s ankle was already toast. If he didn’t land on Pachulia, something else would’ve happened. There’s a reason why a guy as tough as Leonard missed a key game due to this injury already. If this was the regular season he’d be out a minimum of two weeks, probably closer to four.
It was like Leonard’s ankle was already mildly concussed after that play with Lee that seemed totally innocuous, and Pachulia’s foot provided the knockout blow.
With just one off day, one has to assume that Leonard will not take part in Game 2. Sure, the Spurs bludgeoned the Rockets without their MVP candidate, but the Warriors are a little tougher than a Houston Rockets team that could see their summer vacation on the horizon.
Would the Warriors have won if Leonard didn’t re-injure his ankle?
Doesn’t matter. Gregg Popovich rests Leonard during the regular season to make sure he’s fresh for the playoffs. Stuff happens, and it was up to San Antonio to preserve the 23-point lead they had when Leonard landed on Pachulia’s foot.
Also, the Warriors could’ve come back and won this game even if Leonard stayed healthy throughout. That’s right, I wrote it. They’ve outscored teams by 20+ over a 20-minute span plenty of times this season. Including one time against the Spurs in San Antonio.
— It was great to see him talk to the team, but I actually found myself disagreeing with one point Steve Kerr made during the locker room segment ABC/ESPN showed at halftime. Kerr told the players that they played good defense in the first quarter, but a few things went against them and suddenly they found themselves under an avalanche (in so many words). Kerr might have been referring to the team’s hands, which were active in the first quarter. At times. But we’ve seen Golden State play amazing defense several times over the last few weeks, and it looked a lot different than anything we saw in the first quarter. The second quarter was just a disaster on all fronts. How many dunks did the Spurs get off garden variety drives?
— The Warriors finished the first half with just 10 defensive rebounds, compared to eight offensive rebounds for San Antonio over that same stretch. Golden State knew they needed to win the rebounding battle against Utah, and they need to re-up that way of thinking again in this series. They know it, too — they had a 26-14 rebounding edge in the second half.
— Draymond Green has definitely played better, a lot better (I’m still not sure if he’s over the knee “tweak” he suffered in Game 2 against Utah), and while the technical foul was borderline, he was lucky to avoid ejection based on his reaction to the tech. It would be surprising if he didn’t have a fantastic game on Tuesday, though.
— Green only has two technical fouls so far this postseason, and it takes seven playoff technical fouls to incur a one-game suspension, so Green SHOULD be OK here. He has no flagrant fouls.
— Klay Thompson, who was awful today (2-for-11, 6 points, and multiple boneheaded plays late in the game), has not been good throughout the playoffs. He’ll break out of it at some point, but no guarantees it’ll happen in Game 2.
— Wow, did the Warriors need Pachulia. Not only did he accidentally injure Leonard (wink, wink), he was the only playable center. Both JaVale McGee (5 minutes) and David West (8 minutes) finished -11. Then again, the Warriors could always play Green at center. Not sure why that lineup wasn’t used more often.
— Maybe it wasn’t used as often because the Warriors don’t feel like they have a good replacement for Andre Iguodala in that specific lineup. Iguodala didn’t play in the second half after managing only 10 minutes in the first half, and that’s totally why the Spurs almost won this game (j/k).
— Why are the Warriors so good? Four all-stars and two MVPs certainly helps, but they lost Iguodala and Shaun Livingston came in, gave them several extra possessions and scored four points in a 40-second span midway through the fourth quarter.
— Not only did the Spurs cough up a huge lead after Leonard left, but they wasted a late-career masterpiece (17 points, 7-for-10, 3 steals) from Manu Ginobili. How many more games like that can the Spurs expect from Ginobili?
— Curry made 1-of-5 shots and missed all three of his 3-point attempts in the first quarter. Afterward he went 13-for-21 (7-for-13 behind the arc) and scored 36 points in his final 27 minutes.
— Forgot to get your mom a present today? Don’t worry, just blame the post office and say it’s in the mail, and grab her some Warriors-themed gear from our shop! You could always get something for yourself too, I suppose.