OAKLAND — If ever there was a team that could take a beating like this one and have it mean absolutely nothing in the end, it’s the San Antonio Spurs.
So in that sense, what the Golden State Warriors did to coach Gregg Popovich & Co. on Monday night at Oracle Arena can only mean so much. Even with the absurd margin of defeat (120-90), or the fact that the latest Stephen Curry Show (37 points) came against a defense that has been far and away the best in the NBA this season, this was still Jan. 25. Game No. 45 for both teams — no matter how incredible they’d both been to this point.
The Warriors have every reason to flash an ear-to-ear grin while putting this one in their back pocket, as they not only played stifling defense (41.9% shooting for the Spurs) but managed to improve their home record to 21-0 while breaking the Spurs’ 13-game winning streak. But there was a certain beauty in the Spurs’ reaction afterward, the kind of thing that offered a reminder of why they remain the NBA blueprint when it comes to building a healthy culture and why some other organizations with top-tier teams (here’s looking at you, Cleveland Cavaliers) still have a long way to go in that regard. Credit Popovich with the assist.
“My opening comment here will be that I’m just glad my general manager wasn’t in the locker room, because it might have gotten me fired,” Popovich said.
To most trained NBA ears, the line was a reference to the decision of Cavaliers general manager David Griffin to fire coach David Blatt recently — four days after a 34-point loss to the Warriors — despite the fact that his team was 30-11 at the time. The clear takeaway, no matter how you interpret the line from the always-deliberate Popovich, was that the Spurs don’t see much sense in getting sucked into the kind of overreaction game that so often plagues other teams.
The luxury of having five championship rings certainly comes into play here, as it’s always easier to keep a steady head when you have that kind of experience in the mental database. But the consistency with which the Spurs spoke about this loss to the Warriors was impressive in that regard, their tone nowhere near as desperate as so many other Warriors foes who have had similar nights against them.
“They are unbelievable,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “It’s not easy to get a 90% record in this league (currently a .911 winning percentage), and they have it. … 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. They were fired up, and we couldn’t get anything going.
“The way they shoot the ball, you’ve got to be so careful with not giving them one step because they let it fly and at a really high percentage. … That makes you change your strategy, or whatever you do against the normal teams, and you need to practice. I think we learned today. It’s going to help us. And again, it’s the (45th) game of the season. It’s not like we got eliminated (in the playoffs) today. We got our butts kicked. That’s for sure. We learned.”
And therein lies the scary part for the Warriors. The Spurs have long since become the mad scientists of the NBA, the kind of opponent that always goes back to the basketball laboratory and concocts something to combat their latest virus. Popovich didn’t throw any chairs afterward, nor did he take the tough love approach that is so often more about a coach’s bluster than it is the actual basketball.
“(He said) nothing,” Ginobili said. “(He said), ‘Let’s get together, get ready, go back home because we’re going to be back (in San Antonio) at 4 a.m. So get ready, because we’ll talk eventually about it.’ We didn’t comment on it.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who won two championships with the Spurs (1999, 2003) and knows all too well how slow and steady can win the race, was predictably quick to downplay the ramifications of the rout.
“I don’t know (what the win means),” Kerr said. “Next time we play them (not until March 19 in San Antonio), we know what’s coming and we know what they have in store for us. It’s just one game and I don’t think the score means anything. It’s a great win, and we move on.”
There were real revelations in this game, to be sure, chief among them the fact that Curry showed he can flex his offensive muscles against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard (and Tony Parker and Patty Mills and anyone else they threw his way). This was somewhat in question coming in, as Curry was just 2-9 in games played against Leonard in a stretch that included plenty of off nights from the field (42.9% shooting overall, 38.6% from three-point range, with an average of 21 points, 7.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game, according to BasketballReference.com).
Draymond Green’s domination of Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (five points on 2-of-9 shooting, three rebounds) was impressive stuff as well, though the odds are against Aldridge being that bad again down the road.
“They’re a great basketball team, and we just had a good night,” Green said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say we made a statement. We were just able to execute our game plan on the defensive end. That’s a great team with great players, with a great coaching staff, with great history. They’re going to always make adjustments. We’ve got to make sure we continue to get better.”
Yet for a night — again — it was hard to imagine them being better than this.
Follow Sam Amick on Twitter @sam_amick.
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