SAN ANTONIO -- You now have America’s permission to stop worrying about the Warriors closing out a game. That is, unless you’re just too invested in the “They don’t know how to close a game” narrative to give it up.
The Golden States wore down, and eventually wore out, the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night, winning Game 2 of this Western Conference semifinal series, 100-91, and reordering yet again the way the basketball world views the existing world order.
The only difference, ultimately, is that the Warriors had six times as much time to blow a big lead as they did in Game 1, and didn’t come close to doing so -- close being defined as the other team having the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead.
San Antonio got within six points once in the second half. Once. That is not blowing a game. That may not be winning it to the satisfaction of your own personal comfort level, but the Warriors got what they needed from this little trip to Texas not by backing up or backing off, but by fighting off the team it has always struggled to reach.
Can’t close out a win? Fine. Go with that if you must, but this game says you’re a liar. San Antonio took 19 points to eight, but they didn’t take it any further, and holding an eight-point lead no matter where it started is a light year or so from choking.
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The Warriors now head home where the dynamic will change significantly for Games 3 and 4 Friday and Sunday. There, they will try to re-enact their strangulation of the Denver Nuggets, and try to position themselves for their first conference final appearance in 37 years.
One should not put the cart up the road and make the horse catch it, though. San Antonio looked older and slower, but the Spurs control pace as well as any team in the game, and they clamped down on Curry and Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes well enough to give themselves a fighting chance.
The only problem was, they ran out of defense before they got to Klay Thompson, whose 29-point first half and 17-point second quarter made Curry’s contributions ancillary ones. Thompson hit seven of his first eight treys (“That’s amazing,” Stephen Curry would say when he saw the box score later), and 11 of his 18 first-half shots of all kinds to help the Warriors separate from the Spurs, 62-43 . . .
. . . and in doing so, raise the spectre of yet a third consecutive double-digit tracheotomy. Because that’s what happens when you get a rep for that very thing.
“We all felt we could forget what happened in Game 1,” center Andrew Bogut said. “We all felt like we could rectify what happened to us last time.”
“The feeling was that we knew what had to be done, and that we could do it,” Thompson said. “We weren’t going to let that happen again, because we’re a good team too.”
And then there was his own first-half performance, one which induced head coach Mark Jackson to re-re-reiterate his claim that his is the best shooting backcourt in the history of shooting, and the history of history for that matter.
"It was polite of them to at least take turns and not both be on fire on the same night," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "Maybe the next iteration is neither of them will be hot in Game 3."
“I was just trying to do my best to keep up with Steph,” Thompson said with a half-smile as he surveyed his game-high 34 points and 14 rebounds. “I’ve seen him do it enough time, so I thought I’d try to see if I could keep up.”
He did. Oh, and he played all 24 minutes in the first half and 46:36 for the game, but strangely nobody said anything about him playing too much. One more myth disposed of, thank you very indeed.
But the truth could not be told at halftime. It had to be reinforced through a third quarter in which the Spurs dominated all aspects and seemed to finish with an 18-4 run to redefine the game.
That is, until Thompson crushed a 26-footer at the horn to push the lead back to 11, 83-72. Worry warts felt otherwise, some even in hindsight, but that shot ended the game.
“No,” Jackson would emphatically say later when asked if he felt any here-we-go-agains in the fourth quarter. “I believe that trials and tribulations are transportation for where you’re going. I believe Game 1 made us better. We didn’t panic. We made plays. We knew we could do this.”
And though there were only subtle adjustments made late in the game to see to it that they could, it was largely a matter of defending the Spurs, which they did with considerable verve.
San Antonio shot only 8-for-21 in the fourth, 2-for-7 from three, committed four turnovers, and most importantly never scored more than two consecutive possessions, and that only one time. In sum, they never got a roll going, because the Warriors didn’t let them get one going.
It was, in short, a defensive triumph for the purists, a glorious evening of shooting for Klay Thompson and those who think Stephen Curry needs more rest, and it was a call to everyone else to see that the Warriors may blow the occasional lead, but they don’t blow more than their share, and they still have won six playoff games in nine tries.
If that’s a team that can’t close, then so be it. They can’t close. And they’ll live with it.