SAN ANTONIO -- Finally, there was some sense to the NBA universe. The home team played better. The higher seed showed why. The team with the injuries looked slow and, well, injured.
But Thursday is, well, anyone’s guess. This is Spurs-Warriors, where what you think you know, you don’t, and what you think you see hasn’t happened.
[RELATED: Warriors-Spurs central]
San Antonio boxed Golden State Tuesday night, 109-91, controlling play from start to finish and exploiting all the things the Warriors are not supposed to do well. This game is the one where the conventional wisdom finally made some sense. Though betting on that holding is a decidedly riskier proposition, because this is a classically disrhythmic series in which form holds only sporadically.
[RECAP: Spurs 109, Warriors 91]
In other words, a Game 7 awaits the return of Stephen Curry’s shooting eye and general involvement, or the rebounding edge of Andrew Bogut, or any sign of Klay Thompson. It also awaits the Warriors relocating the ability to stop Tony Parker, or neutralize Kawhi Leonard, or do something of meaning to Tim Duncan.
In other words, Game 7 is entirely dependent on the Warriors undoing all the good the Spurs did for themselves, and all the bad they did unto themselves.
“Give them credit, but a lot of our guys didn’t play well,” head coach Mark Jackson said. “All I could tell them was to own it. If we play the way we played tonight, we should begin to make preparations . . . but that’s not our team.”
Preparations? For what, golf? Hunting? Hawaii? Summer league? Jackson never really said.
But he didn’t have to. For the first time in this series, the Spurs looked to the Warriors the way they always have –- dominant, smart, quick without being fast, and frankly, everywhere.
And for the first time in the entire postseason, the Warriors seemed more overwhelmed in defeat than injured or unlucky.
Parker was particularly difference-effecting, penetrating and dishing off with such impunity than both his 25 points and 10 assists seemed like box score lies.
“He’s our generator,” head coach Gregg Popovich said. “If he’s not going to be aggressive, everything tends to slow down, so it’s important that he attacks.”
And he did, on the same night that Curry was more mobile but less effective than at any other time in the postseason; when Thompson couldn’t even find a three-pointer to attempt, let alone make; when Bogut was outrebounded by Duncan, 11-6.
In sum, the Warriors looked inert, and the Spurs were the catalysts. In a game in which credit and blame are often intertwined, this was a game San Antonio clearly won, and would have won eight other times in 10 tries. The Warriors didn’t shoot well, didn’t find many looks from three-point range, were outrebounded, handled the basketball poorly in the second half (11 turnovers) and in general looked the part of the plucky little underdog that had just seen its needle rest on “E.”
Jackson even acknowledged the fact, playing Bogut only two minutes in the fourth quarter and Curry five. The Warriors had chased the Spurs since a 15-0 run in the first quarter had given San Antonio a 27-15 lead, and that chase proved fruitless enough that Jackson emptied his bench with four minutes left.
“It got to a point where they had made plays and we hadn’t, and I had to look toward Game 6,” Jackson said matter-of-factly. “It was just being smart, that’s all.”
But it was also the team’s first white flag of the postseason, making a salient issue of how it would rally in Game 6 with surrender as its most recent memory.
“It’s doable,” Jackson kept saying. “We’ll be fine.” And maybe the Warriors will be; one doubts their resilience with considerable peril.
San Antonio, though, is not a team to which one gives the scent of blood. Even in its advanced age, they have now found and exhibited the foolproof components for victory – Parker at his most intrepid, Duncan at his most assertive, Leonard and Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw and Cory Joseph and the peripatetic Manu Ginobili all providing tangible value in unison.
The Warriors are not healthy, this is true. But in addition to the hip flexor and the ankles, and the elbows and the eye, one can now add temporary shellshock. They have been forcibly shown the hand of the powerful for the first time this postseason, and their response Thursday is critical.
Unless they’d rather make “preparations.”