Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Warriors - Spurs Game Five: Waves Of Spurs

I Hear He's French
For a while, this one looked like it was going to be another incredibly compelling game. The Spurs held an early lead, but the Warriors kept them within striking distance despite getting next to nothing from Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. And in the third, with Tim Duncan starting to miss badly (because he's old and tired, naturally, rather than just prone to attracting better defense late) and Manu Ginobili not even being able to hit three throws, there was a certain feeling of inevitability around thus one. Clearly, the Dubs were going to start making from distance and take control, right?

Well, um, no. Because when a young player has bad minutes in a deep game in an even playoff series, he's gassed, inexperienced, not ready or hurt. Whereas when this happens to an older guy, he's just old and tired. But what actually happened here was different.

What the Spurs did tonight, with Gregg Popovich pushing the buttons and the bench executing flawlessly, was expose what might be the final and most critical flaw of these Warriors: they don't take care of the ball. Jarrett Jack can be pressured, Stephen Curry is prone to the big chance when the small chance will do, and everyone on the team has just enough handle to be dangerous with the ball, for good or for ill. In the third and fourth quarter go time, Popovich threw waves at the Warriors, turned up the tempo, and got something akin to a wilding.

Beyond the defense, make no mistake about it: Tony Parker won this game for the Spurs tonight. He kept getting quality looks inside, kept going to the line, kept the pressure up. He's the one Spur who seems to hold an athletic advantage, in that he just keeps getting past his man in one on one situations. Just as Duncan is tragically old in every bad play, Curry's hurt.

Here's how good the Spurs were going in the third quarter. Mark Jackson actually dusted off the execrable Andres Biedrins, and Popovich did not go to hack a stiff. Considering how badly the worst contract in the NBA is at the line, this was a little surprising. (And hey, Mark Jackson, if you are going to give minutes to Biedrins, Richard Jeffeson and Kent Bazemore, maybe you'd do better to just get your starters much more bench time and concede this one a little earlier.)

The constant, full-court pressure on Curry was especially noteworthy. There were moments in the second half where the Warrior guard just looked incapable of handling the game at the speed that the Spurs were generating with their waves of bench guys. It's the best way anyone has guarded Curry so far in this playoffs you are going to beat the Dubs, you really need to have more shots than they do, and the prime way to get that is from turnovers. Credit Popovich for finding a new way to get it done, and for finally putting his deep bench to its best advantage. The Dubs aren't beating anyone with their backcourt shooting under 35%, which is what has happened since the first two games in this series, and they don't handle it well enough to just drive and go to the line against pressure.

Can the Dubs force a Game 7? Of course; the only real drawback here is that there won't be a Game 8 and 9, though to be honest, these teams seem to be shrinking over time. But the Game 5 winner takes the series over 80% of the time, and the Warriors aren't going to stop being turnover-prone, especially in the sixth straight game against an extremely well-coached opponent. There's also real worry that a team of shooters isn't going to get their legs back for Game 94 of the season, especially when most of them aren't used to playing more than 60 games a year with feeling. I'm just hoping that this series can end at a high level; most of the hoop here has been too good for things to end in a whimper.

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