Cruel World: The Warriors are belief-crushers

This was a cruel game. It’s been a cruel series for the Spurs, who came into it with hopes of a competitive series if not an outright upset. But this game was cruel to watch, and the Warriors’ cruelty — overhyped in response to the Zaza closeout heard around the world — was on full display tonight.

They don’t just kill teams in transition, or on the glass. In Game 2, a 136-100 bludgeoning that was exactly as close as the score would indicate, the Warriors made it so the Spurs, like the Blazers and Jazz before them, were rendered lifeless by the end of the first quarter.

Unless Kawhi Leonard’s ankle mends fully, at a rate bordering on miraculous, this series is already over. Even if the rest of this games are rescheduled with tip-off times of 12:30 pm or earlier, and the arenas are as music-free as Madison Square Garden during that forgettable game in early March, the Warriors will dispatch the Spurs with ease in the absence of a healthy Leonard.

That’s not just the opinion of some regional sports blogger. That’s how the Spurs themselves felt, other than maybe Jonathan Simmons (who is always lights-out at Oracle).

“I’m disappointed,” Gregg Popovich vented, as if to a therapist he feels like he might be paying a little too much.

“The only way I can process this is I think it’s not about O’s and X’s or rebounds or turnovers or anything like that. I think we’ve maybe felt it too much, Kawhi being gone, in the sense that I don’t think … as I watched, I don’t think they believed.

“And you have to believe. I don’t think as a group they really did, which means probably a little bit feeling sorry for themselves psychologically, subconsciously, whatever psychobabble word you want to use. That’s the way I process it.”

It had to sting Popovich to see his team become the Rockets. Or, worse yet, the Clippers. Now that the Warriors have realized their potential, and see their loaded roster as a constant strength rather than something to be managed, all of their opponents start acquiring Clippers-like tendencies before long.

The Spurs have had their questionable postseason efforts in recent years (including Game 1 against Houston just a couple of weeks ago), and they’ll play much, much harder in Game 3. But there’s no way they can win four of five against this Golden State team, and they know it.

Can you blame them? It’s hard to blame Popovich or anyone affiliated with the Spurs to experience feelings of despair, jealousy and maybe even resignation after losing their top-5 player against a team with four top-20 players and no other top-20 players of your own.

LaMarcus Aldridge? Please. Try two points and two rebounds with three turnovers in the first half.

“He can’t be timid,” Popovich fumed. “He turned down shots in the first quarter. He can’t do it. You’ve got to score. Scoring has to come from someplace.”

While the Spurs had just two players hit double figures (Simmons and Davis Bertans, who scored 13 points in garbage time, which was lengthy tonight), the Warriors had seven. The leader, and perhaps looking better than he has at any point since the end of the previous regular season, when he surpassed 400 threes against Memphis, was Stephen Curry.

Curry had an easy-breezy 29 points in just over 30 minutes, and he’s back to making shots from everywhere, from every angle. It’s often said that Draymond Green can see things coming on the defensive end, and Curry is seeing the game in the same way offensively. He’s playing with a calm that hasn’t been seen nearly as often in his last two playoff runs as it was during his MVP regular seasons. He may not tell the world this, but he’s this team’s leader.

You know that thing that LeBron James does, where he plays well during regular seasons but paces himself so he can unleash the full LeBron experience in the playoffs? Maybe that was what Curry was doing this season. And to think how everyone was so concerned about Curry and Kevin Durant … and whose team it was … and what was wrong with Curry. Maybe Curry knew that in order to truly shine in the postseason, he needed to cede a little of that scoring responsibility during the regular season, and that’s why he was willing to fly to the Hamptons.

Or, he realized that adding Durant to this roster would make the Western Conference easier to navigate than it’s been for any team since the Lakers in the early-2000s. And even those Kobe-Shaq teams didn’t crush their opponents’ will to live and fight, not like the Warriors are crushing teams this season.

Most NBA fans were surely unhappy with the day’s events, with the Celtics and Lakers finishing atop the draft lottery and the Warriors routing the short-handed Spurs. Life is cruel. And after a couple of decades of absorbing cruelty from San Antonio three or four times per year, the stomping boot is on the other foot.

Dub Steps

— Marcus Thompson tried to promote his book about Curry, but Steph shut it down quickly.

Here’s my view (I turned my phone’s camera on a little late, my apologies):

— Durant said he noticed when Aldridge stuck his foot underneath Durant’s feet when he attempted that three (how could he not, the play seemed awkward live and I was watching from the opposite corner of the arena).

But he had the most professional response possible.

“That’s just part of the game. It’s been happening forever, since I’ve been in the league. I think bigs just try to contest shots and sometimes that stuff may happen, but it’s not on purpose at all. You know LaMarcus. He’s a stand-up guy. He just plays the game the right way.”

Would Durant have reacted the same way if Aldridge didn’t go to Texas? Tough to say, but you have to imagine the Warriors noticed his actions. Didn’t Aldridge also get under Curry a little bit in Game 1?

— Speaking of Pachulia, apparently he’s dealing with a heel contusion and will get an MRI. I kind of agree with this suggestion.

— Ian Clark looked like he might have hurt his ankle. It might not matter if it lingers, because Patrick McCaw looks like he can handle a lot more minutes.

McCaw was showing out tonight. He tried to dunk over three guys and failed, and got beaten by a few drives when he tried to reach, but he had a fadeaway three, a fantastic first step and layup against Aldridge, and a block where he seemed to float in the air for a couple of seconds before flinging the ball gracefully to halfcourt.

He seemed almost like a spectator on offense for a lot of the season, content to “make the right pass” even if the right pass didn’t exist and he was wide open. That McCaw has left the building.

After barely playing for five games, he had 18 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals in a Game 2 he started and finished with the kind of tantalizing plays that make one wonder how high this kid’s ceiling might be.

McCaw’s confidence seems sky-high now, but it’s always been at that level. You can’t say stuff like this without being extremely sure of yourself:

“For me, as a basketball player, I take bits and pieces from everybody’s game. I take it as a compliment that I’m being compared to Andre. I take stuff from Andre. I take stuff from Klay. I take stuff from Draymond. All the players on our team, I try to contribute it to my whole game.

“The way I play, I play as a team player. So, if you want to give me a comparison, you could compare me to the whole team. I feel like I take a little bit of everybody’s game and contribute it to mine.”

— Klay Thompson was a team-high +25, despite leading the team in turnovers and looking off once again.

— Last reminder: Warriors gear 15% off (ends tonight!!!) Enter this code at checkout: TOAST


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