OAKLAND -- Nine and a half minutes. That’s all the explanation you need. That’s all the explanation there is, frankly. The Warriors and Spurs are going back to Texas for Game 5 of this Western Conference semifinal series because of nine and a half minutes.
The details were a deceptively lopsided 97-87 overtime win the Warriors really didn’t give much indication of having merited for most of the day. The heroes were Harrison Barnes, for his 26 points in 26 shots in the step-up role, and Klay Thompson, for his game-tying score with 30 seconds left in regulation, and Andrew Bogut for his 18 rebounds. And lots of cameos in subordinate roles, including the cameo that never is, Wardell S. Curry, as the immobile 22-point scorer.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors even series with thrilling OT win]
But it was the last nine-and-a-half minutes that did it. And don’t any fabulists tell you otherwise.
With four-and-a-half minutes left, the Warriors were dead, remember? Down eight deep into the fourth quarter of a game that would have killed them had they lost. Down eight in a game in which their best player, Curry, was essentially statuary. Down eight in a game in which their center, Bogut, couldn’t keep from fouling. Down eight in a game in which their alternate Curry, Thompson, couldn’t get the ball with enough open looks, and their second alternate, Barnes, went through bursts of accuracy in a largely inaccurate game.
Down eight with 4 ½ minutes to play, to the San Antonio Spurs and all their years of killer instinct. And down, frankly, to two weapons – their sometimes problematic defense, and their often problematic second point, the aptly named Jarrett M. Jack.
Down eight, and then up 10 at go-home time. There was the 20-foot pull-up jumper at 4:38 to make it 92-86. Then the 16-footer a minute later. Then the 18-footer with 58.5 seconds left to tie the game at 82.
And because he’s Jarrett Jack, the Warriors’ designated love/hate affair with the Bay Area, there was the last shot of regulation, in which he took the ball himself and missed. And then the 14-foot jumper he took to start the overtime and put the Warriors ahead to stay, 84-82.
And through all of that, the Spurs missed 14 of their final 17 shots, and the only two free throws they took, in those final 9 ½ minutes. That’s defense, and reluctance to press an advantage, and settling for jumpers instead of pressing the advantage. This was a game that was lost as well as won.
“I thought we did a little of both,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said when asked if his team settled for jumpers instead of attacking the basket. “But you take what’s given. You do the best you can to read the defense, see what’s available and react accordingly. Frankly, I think we got caught up in a few too many three. Twenty-seven is too many for us.”
And as for the Warriors, in particular Jack and Barnes?
“Obviously you give attention to people like Curry and Thompson, but you have to do the whole deal. Tonight, Barnes and Jack did the job for them. They were tremendous. They did it in fine fashion.”
Jack was that very thing, because he is the focus when Curry doesn’t have the ball, and he is the perfect Warrior in that he can scare the hell out of a building full of fans at any moment.
“People beat up Jarrett Jack,” head coach Mark Jackson said. “Why is he pounding the ball? People say bench him. Well, I’m going to go with this group until I’m not here. I’m committed to them, and they’re committed to me.”
“We don’t have to lean on our offense,” Jack said, despite being the only player on either team to shoot better than 50 percent for the game. “We’re not dependent on any one area to be successful. Playing against a team like the Spurs that executes probably the best in the league, you have to be in tune with philosophies, and we did a tremendous job of that tonight.”
Thus, gimping to a finish line that always moves, the Warriors survived a game they had little business winning – that is, until those final 9 ½ minutes, when they outscored San Antonio, 23-5, and were led by the player the crows fears most of all.
Jarrett Matthew Jack. Fearless, in the face of, well, sometimes in the face of the evidence. And on Sunday, in the face of logic. He blinked last, on a day when the Warriors needed that most of all.