Posted May 15, 2013

Three-Pointers: Spurs bottle up Warriors guards in commanding Game 5 win

2013 NBA playoffs, Ben Golliver, Golden State Warriors, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, San Antonio Spurs, Stephen Curry, Tony Parker
(Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images)

Tony Parker’s Spurs took control against the Warriors on Tuesday night. (Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images)

The Spurs defeated the Warriors 109-91 in Game 5 on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semifinals series.

•  Golden State bottled up. David Lee’s injury and the Warriors’ subsequent decision to go small brought an immediate, beautiful, anything-is-possible chaotic element to every game they played, at least until Tuesday.

For the first time this playoffs, Golden State’s offense was legitimately contained, and their 91 points marked their lowest scoring output of the postseason. For the first time in a dogfight of a series in which two of the first four games went into overtime, Golden State was soundly, thoroughly beaten, their 18-point margin of defeat was Golden State’s largest since April 11. By comparison, the Warriors’ four previous losses in the postseason — two to Denver, two to San Antonio — came by a combined 21 points.

And for the first time during the playoffs, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were both shooting blanks in the same game. Prior to Game 5, the Splash Brothers’ lowest combined scoring total was 29 points in a sloppy Game 6 closeout win against the Nuggets. On Tuesday, Curry and Thompson managed just 13 points combined, and just four combined in the second half.

Golden State has made huge comebacks, broken open tight games and instilled fear in opponents through their confident, can’t-miss outside shooting; it just wasn’t there in Game 5, as the Spurs’ brought consistent attention to detail on defense, maintaining contact on the perimeter, denying when possible, closing out hard on jump-shooters and limiting the Warriors to just seven combined offensive rebounds. No open looks, no second-chance points and nothing much in transition is an excellent foundation for a successful defensive evening, and extra effort plays from Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard were just the icing on the cake.

“They’re a potent team,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “If you float or relax, all of a sudden they get an eight or 10-point run. You have to stay on your toes in terms of staying tenacious.”

The second-half momentum that Curry and Thompson have been able to conjure almost at will — even in some of Golden State’s postseason losses — just wasn’t there. This simply wasn’t the Curry/Thompson that we’ve come to expect — and that the Warriors need — in the playoffs.

Curry/Thompson combined, 2013 playoffs, entering Tuesday: 41.8 points per game, 45.1 percent shooting, 42.5 percent three-point shooting

Curry/Thompson combined, Tuesday: 13 points, 27.3 percent shooting, 14.3 percent three-point shooting

“It was a long night for us,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “Give [the Spurs] credit, they played great. … We’re a no excuses basketball team. The Spurs outplayed us.”

The absence of offense from Golden State’s starting backcourt — and the subsequent absence of energy that it created — framed the series strongly in San Antonio’s favor. Chaos is everything for the Warriors, who won’t get this done relying on Jarrett Jack, who finished with 20 points off the bench, and Harrison Barnes, who scored a team-high 25 points (more below), even if those two are clicking on all cylinders. The repercussions of an off-night from Curry and Thompson are felt everywhere: the defense looks a step slower, Tony Parker appears in more control than usual, the Spurs’ role players are able to settle in on offense without thinking about getting torched, and “B” level efforts from Tim Duncan (15 points and 11 rebounds) and Manu Ginobili (10 points on three-for-nine shooting) are more than enough.

“If we play like we played tonight, we might as well make preparations [for the offseason],” Jackson admitted, saying that both his starting guards “didn’t play well” and noting that he didn’t believe Golden State would play the same way in Game 6.

Popovich wasn’t banking on a repeat showing, and he definitely didn’t sound like a coach who believes the end of the series is as imminent as it felt during the second half.

“Nobody talks about getting this thing over with, like you’ve got a rash and you take a pill or put some cream on it and it will be gone,” he said. “This is a war. They’ve got a class team.”

•  All Barnes, all the time. San Antonio gave up 44 points to Curry in Game 1 and 34 to Thompson in Game 2, but they’ve done a much better job of keeping the carnage under control since then, thanks in large part to the efforts of Green and Leonard.

“They’re probably doing it for a good reason,” Jack said of the extra attention San Antonio is paying Curry and Thompson. “Those guys are very, very deadly.”

One result: Warriors rookie Harrison Barnes has seen his scoring opportunities and responsibilities drastically increase. After taking an astonishing 26 shots in Game 4,  the All-Rookie First Team selection was back for more in Game 5, taking 18 shots. For context, Barnes had never took more than 17 shots during the regular season or the playoffs prior to Game 4.

You can see what both sides have in mind, and you can see that it strongly favors the Spurs. Jackson is looking to use Barnes’ size, shooting ability and good technical skills to take advantage of mismatches with Parker, who is giving up serious height and bulk when they go head-to-head. He’s also looking for offense — any offense — with both Curry and Andrew Bogut limited by injuries. Popovich, meanwhile, is simply looking to funnel Golden State’s offense anywhere but Curry and Thompson and more than willing to let Barnes, who averaged 9.2 points per game this season, try to beat them with his offense.

San Antonio wins this on the math and within the context of the series. The math first: According to Synergy Sports, Barnes averaged just 0.74 points per possession (PPP) and shot just 34.7 percent in isolation this season, compared to 1.36 PPP off cuts, 1.01 PPP in spot-up situations and 1.22 PPP in transition. Barnes’ athletic tools and smooth shooting stroke make him the ideal third scoring option in a pass-happy lineup, where he can move without the ball, settle in and take advantage of dead spots within an opponent’s defensive framework, and finish above the rim in transition. Asking him to methodically back down any defender, even Parker, is asking him to do something outside his demonstrated skill set and well outside what the Warriors would consider good offense from a numbers perspective.

The pound-it-into-the-post approach noticeably slows the pace, too, and inhibits the ball movement that makes the Golden State attack so deadly. Barnes played well in Game 5, scoring 25 points on 18 shots and committing just one turnover, and this loss was clearly not his fault. But his game — at least at this point in his young, promising career — is not built to bear this type of burden under these circumstances. Credit Barnes’ fearlessness and maturity, just don’t expect him to deliver two straight must-wins in this manner.

•  Curry’s ankle. Curry tweaked his left ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and he didn’t seem to move with total confidence and fluidity in Game 5.

He played 35 minutes, his fewest of the series,  and sat out the final four minutes when Jackson uncharacteristically waved the white flag.

“It was just being smart,” the Warriors coach said of his decision to end Curry’s night with the Warriors down 18 points. “I didn’t want to see him get hurt. Obviously he wasn’t 100 percent.”

Jackson clarified that Curry wasn’t “injured” and told reporters that he expected both Curry and Bogut, who also tweaked his ankle and played just 20 minutes, would be available for Game 6 on Thursday in Oakland.

“We’ll be fine,” he said. “We’re excited about Game 6. I believe those guys have a lot left in them.”

Jackson always sounds confident, and this was no exception, but Game 5′s action revealed plenty of cause for concern.

5 comments
dinohealth
dinohealth

Thanks, Ben, for giving us this great column on the Warriors and Game Five.  I tried to place a comment with some thoughts on Game Six, tonight, but, to my dismay, there was not a single story on it.  I think the light coverage of the San Antonio-Warriors series is a lost opportunity for the NBA and Sport.  Let me tell you why in my comment below:

Mark Jackson has led this TEAM (coaches and players) and molded them into one of the finest group of competitors this year in the NBA; if not, THE, finest. Xs and Os will get you so far. However, when you exceed expected performance indicators, achieving the unthinkable, there is another element that comes to play. MOTIVATION. That is the fine art, and the essence, of Coach Mark Jackson. He inspires it, instills it, and, personifies it. It is genuine. His team knows that, and they respond to it. He believes what he says. His team knows that, and they believe in him. He strives for excellence. His team emulates him. He dreams of miracles. They become “The Miracle Team”. It is the essence of basketball; of sport. How can anyone not pull for them?

Whatever the outcome tonight, Mark Jackson and the Warrior Miracle Team, have earned the recognition and acclaim of the NBA and the world of Sport. It is not only because they defied all odds and achieved something that the data indicated was in the realm of deviation from the mean. It is not only because they have given us an exciting brand of basketball that brings a smile on the face of every kid, young and old, that has ever pushed a basketball in sweat-cooled cement and hardwood courts across this world. It is not even because we were fortunate to witness the conception of, and the jelling of a “miracle” before our very eyes. All true, but, more than each, and the sum of these, this Team has INSPIRED each and everyone of us! This inspiration has been contagious.

Sport has always been about inspiration. Since the Ancient Olympics, Sport has been able to transcend politics and even wars.

Great Motivators, Teachers, in Sport, were always venerated. Our lives were always better when following their example and teachings.

Thank you Mark Jackson and TEAM!!! You are already the Champions of all of us! 

DavidHarte
DavidHarte

Look, this is pretty simple--the Warriors are hurt: Curry just can't cut on that ankle, Bogut was badly limited last night, and David Lee can barely managed 5 minutes a game.

Those are the Warriors three best players.  It also hurts that Klay Thompson has been very spotty, except in game 2.

But if the Warriors win tomorrow they have nothing to lose (or fear) in game 7, and that makes them dangerous.

Either way, the Spurs are on their last legs and the Warriors, assuming Bogut and Curry can stay healthy next year, are on the rise.

dinohealth
dinohealth

I am a Warrior fan.

They played the Warriors the only way you can play the Warriors. They spread out, went inside, penetrated, kicked-out, made mid and long-range shots, and, defensively, aggressively created and made them pay for every one of their 20 Turnovers, many of them individually unforced (TEAM defensive pressure). They played what is for them the perfect defensive game, taking Curry and Thompson out of the equation. In essence, it was the perfect defensive and offensive effort for them. The score and outcome reflected that fact.

On the Warriors end of the ball, J Jack, for the second game in a row, was our Warrior Wonder. It is no coincidence that he is one of our most experienced players. Barnes continued to be oblivious to the happenings and expectations of the gods of basketball (sportswriters) around him, and delivered another fine, game-plan, performance, well beyond his years and experience. Jack and Barnes were not enough, even with rock-solid Landry doing his normal, mid-range, thing. Nonetheless, we needed either Curry or Thompson to break the defensive blockade the Spurs threw at the" splash brothers offense". We were not able to do that. It was a TEAM failure to break at least one of them loose. By team, I mean coaching and players! There needed to have been an in-game adjustment to make that the team’s offensive priority at all costs. It did not happen. In all fairness, it takes a very experienced team, that has played many years together, to make those types of in-game adjustments. Like the Spurs. Finally, they were able to execute against our young, “Miracle Team”.

I do not think Curry’s problem is physical, though it is convenient to say so. His physical condition simply accentuates it. I do not think it is even a sudden abandonment of his individual skill sets. I think it is a result of a less-than-mature offense that is not, yet, capable to make necessary, in-game, TEAM adjustments, to intensify the effort to get him the shot, or, capitalize, with other players, the expected intense defense effort to stop him from his individual offensive game. This failure, and the many turnovers/missed shots, resulting from Curry trying to remain an offensive weapon through his superb individual play, are now affecting his mental state of being. He was visibly frustrated.  We witnessed ever-increasing tentativeness and doubt. Curry’s skill sets are there, the TEAM adjustments are not. Again, in all fairness, it is a lot to expect from a very, very, young, “Miracle Team”, that has defied all odds. It comes with time, and, experience. Both, for the Coaching Staff, and the players

Thompson’s problem is very similar to Curry’s. There is no physical or mental element involved, however. Simply, he is being force to do a lot off the dribble which is not his most-effective and efficient score. In the absence of a TEAM capability to adjust and create that shot for him, he is being forced into his less-efficient mode.

I think the X-factor that would have given us an improved capability to capitalize on the experienced defensive effort the Spurs are throwing at us, is David Lee. His passing capability, experience, poise, and quick transition into the offense, not to mention his rebounding and scoring, are sorely missed. Unfortunately, we do not have that. That has severely curtailed the coaching staff’s in-game adjustment capabilities of a young team playing for the first time, unexpectedly, deep into the Playoffs!

It is OK. We will adjust, as best as we can, FIX the turnovers,  before the next game, at Roaracle. We will SHOOT LIGHTS OUT!  We will win it!

I lost my bet!

Warriors in SEVEN!

WARRIORS! 

spiderminion
spiderminion

I really thought the Dubs were going to win this series after the events of Game 1 and 2. Glad to see the Spurs (team I'm rooting for) is back in control and looking likely to win this series in 6!