OAKLAND -- So the first philosophical question to be asked after Game 1 of the Series Of The Century, January Division, is this:
If what we were meant to learn off Game 1 of Warriors-Spurs was 120-90, then the Warriors actually have succeeded in breaking the regular season entirely.
We suspect, however, that this isn’t the defining moment of this series. If it is, we’re all in for a hype-laden disappointment.
Except, of course, for this: San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was more communicative than he would be if the arse-kicking would have featured his team as the foot rather than the hinder.
“We almost got ‘em,” he said with a look that screamed equal parts stupefaction and sardonicism. “I’m just glad my general manager wasn’t in the locker room because it might have gotten me fired.”
The second part was a not-so-terribly veiled shot at the Cleveland Cavaliers, where head coach David Blatt had just been kneecapped three days earlier.
He then took his 30-point humble and said what everyone else in Basketball Earth had seen – the Warriors at their best remain an insoluble puzzle for the rest of the known world.
This had been hyped as the greatest regular season game in NBA history, an absurdity of almost galactic proportions even before the opening tap, and a demonstrable falsehood after one period.
In short, presuming you’re of a mind to declare the season ended with five months to go, you have all the answers you or anyone else will need. Of course, it isn’t. Of course, the Spurs are geometrically better than they showed.
On the other hand, the Warriors have now beaten the team with the second-best record by 30, the third-best team (Cleveland) by 34, the fifth best team (Toronto) by 5 and 3, the sixth best team (the L.A. Clippers) by 4 and 7, the eighth-best team, (Chicago) by 34 and the ninth-best team (Memphis) by 50 and 16.
“That’s a hell of a team,” Popovich said after being the latest coach to be Curry’d. “Really disciplined, really aggressive and tough. The coaches have ‘em right where they want them, really executing well. It was men and boys out there, so they deserve a lot of credit. Men and boys.”
Indeed it was. While Comrade Poole has the game details, suffice it to say that San Antonio’s eight early turnovers, Curry’s 37 points in 28 minutes, Draymond Green’s plus-29 in 26 minutes, and the Warriors winning the second and third quarters 66-43 were enough to convince Popovich that the Spurs have some work ahead of them before they meet the Warriors in Texas in 54 days.
“There wasn’t one thing,” he said when asked if there was a particular turning point or element of the sport that explained the largest loss the Spurs have endured since Feb. 21, 2012, when they ate it by 40 at Portland. “They beat us in every facet of the game. We’ve got a long way to go to beat those guys.
“You start the game mentally with eight turnovers, that’ll tell you something,” he said, citing only reserve Jonathan Simmons as a Spur who played with both energy and purpose. “So maybe my game plan sucked. Maybe I didn’t have them ready mentally, whatever. There isn’t much else I can tell you, but that’s the truth, and I’m sticking to it.”
Manu Ginobili, the team’s eldest available statesman, was less country-music-lyric’d, but just as unequivocal.
“Of course the two best records in the league usually draws a lot of attention but once again, we didn’t play well. The fact that we came from 13 wins in a row didn’t quite help. A team like them, they are so different. We are more a conventional team. They are different, so we need to adjust. Give them credit. They are unbelievable. It’s not easy to get a 90 percent record in this league, and they have it. They are playing at an incredible level.”
When someone reminded him that San Antonio is also better than industry standard, he was unimpressed.
“92 to 86 is a big difference. At this point they are better than us. I’m not embarrassed to face it. They played much better, they wanted it more, they were playing at home and fired up.”
But surely there was more than just adrenal glands at Defcon 1.
“The way they shoot the ball, you have to be so careful with not giving them one step because they let it fly with really high percentages. When a team shoots that many threes, it’s incredible. That makes you change your strategy or whatever you do against the normal teams, and it needs practice. We learned today and it’s going to help us. We got our butts kicked, that’s for sure.”
And Curry, the bête noire to end all bête noires?
“He’s close to unguardable. When there’s a player playing like that, shooting like that, handling the ball like that, and behind him there’s not much then you can control him. But when you have to blitz or be aggressive on him, and then you have all the type of players they have … it’s not that he’s shooting 45 and the other ones are shooting 28. They’re shooting, 37, 38, 39, 40, 45. So it’s a whole team. Of course it goes around him but behind him are a ton of players that are doing great.”
And with that, he sighed with a resignation the Spurs don’t often feel. They were educated in the difference between .911 and .844, and it was a harsh lesson to eat.
But eat they did, and begin the slow methodical revivification of a great team finding out what happens when the one team that is greater turns out to be impossibly superb.