Blowing a 16-point lead in the final four minutes of Game 1 and losing a double-overtime thriller should have devastated the Golden State Warriors. It did not.
Mark Jackson's Dubs came charging out for Game 2 and played a complete game, beating the San Antonio Spurs on their home floor (something the franchise had not done since Tim Duncan last played at Wake Forest).
After trailing by 19 at halftime, the Spurs cut the deficit to six points with 4:22 remaining. Doubt and fear should have paralyzed Golden State yet again, but that didn't happen. Stephen Curry canned a couple of insurance jumpers and San Antonio went scoreless for the next four minutes.
Shockingly, the Warriors have played like the better team and now head home with a chance to push the Spurs to the brink. But you'd be crazy to count the Spurs out just yet.
Time: Friday, May 10, 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif.
Series Record: Tied at 1-1
Game 3 Key Story Line: Small Bigs and Big Smalls
Both coaches juggled their starting lineups after going to double overtime in Game 1.
Gregg Popovich subtracted Boris Diaw and played him for just eight minutes on Wednesday night. Matt Bonner, also known as the Red Mamba, started at power forward and played ineffectively over 16 minutes.
Mark Jackson also went smaller, taking out backup center Festus Ezeli and starting power forward Draymond Green in his stead. Green saw 38 minutes off the bench in Game 1 to just 12 for Ezeli, so his start didn't come as a complete surprise.
Green struggled shooting the ball in Game 2 (2-of-8) but racked up seven boards, five dimes and a block in his 33 minutes. Green used his 6'7", 230-pound frame to muscle in the paint as San Antonio got caught too small on some occasions.
They're lucky Harrison Barnes couldn't get his shots to fall (5-of-14, 0-of-5 from three-point range) or the fourth quarter might have been a blowout.
Through two games, the Spurs have not gotten much production up front out of Diaw and Tiago Splitter (12 points total in the first two games), though the latter may be slowed by his ankle injury despite not appearing on the injury report. Splitter earned a team-worst minus-11 rating in just 10 minutes of court time in Game 2.
DeJuan Blair posted solid numbers per 36 minutes during the regular season—13.9 points, 9.7 boards and 1.6 steals—but saw a DNP in Game 2 after six minutes in the first contest. Perhaps Blair should be paired for a whole quarter with Tim Duncan, as the Red Mamba just isn't getting things done.
And all the while, the Warriors' electric backcourt has rained jump shots through the net, making San Antonio look old and sluggish.
Ultimately, Golden State has more versatility in their lineup, so the Spurs will have to capitalize on their experience and savvy to slow down the Warriors' assault. San Antonio must go back to basics on defense and hope the Dubs don't shoot 48 percent from three-point range again.
Series Star So Far: Klay Thompson
This spot rightfully belongs to Stephen Curry, but the Spurs touched him up a little bit in Game 2 and knocked him off his rhythm.
Meanwhile, Thompson played absolutely unconscious, dropping 34 points, including 8-of-9 from downtown. His absurd 29 first-half points spurred the Warriors to a 19-point lead at halftime.
And when he wasn't draining threes, he was crashing the boards on his way to 14 rebounds.
Thompson comes from a basketball pedigree, as his dad, Mychal Thompson, played on a pair of championship teams with the L.A. Lakers and currently does color commentary for their games on the radio. Papa Thompson also controls young Klay's finances (h/t to B/R's Gabe Zaldivar).
Projected Starting Lineups
San Antonio: Tony Parker, PG; Danny Green, SG; Kawhi Leonard, SF; Tim Duncan, PF; Tiago Splitter, C
Golden State: Stephen Curry, PG; Klay Thompson, SG; Harrison Barnes, SF; Draymond Green, PF; Andrew Bogut, C
Spurs Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Warriors Injury Report
David Lee (hip), questionable
Spurs Will Win If...
They figure out the matchup jumble.
Even Coach of the Year George Karl was beaten by the Warriors' sneakily versatile rotation, and now Popovich is struggling with their youth and athleticism as well. The Spurs have been outplayed for much of the first two games in their own building, and they head to Oakland lucky to have salvaged a split.
After almost getting beat by 44 points from Curry in Game 1, they yielded 29 points to Klay Thompson in just one half. Even if San Antonio succeeds in shutting those two down in Game 3, Jarrett Jack will probably score 30 instead.
During the season, the Spurs finished eighth in opponent's field-goal percentage and allowed the third-fewest points per 100 possessions. They must revive that solid team defense, close out strong on perimeter shots and limit points in the paint (84 in two games for the Warriors).
Just as importantly, they have to box out and no longer allow a team that takes so many jump shots to out-rebound them. In Game 2, Carl Landry and Andrew Bogut snagged 19 boards in just 43 minutes between them.
Pop has a tall task ahead of him, as both his backcourt and frontcourt are at sixes and sevens, but if anyone can draw up a game plan to reclaim home-court advantage, he's the man for the task.
Warriors Will Win If...
They limit their turnovers and get 20-plus points from someone not named Stephen Curry.
After coughing up the ball 21 times in Game 1 (including six from Curry), Golden State committed just 10 turnovers in their victory on Wednesday night. They have to take care of the ball and avoid the carelessness that plagued them down the stretch in Game 6 against the Denver Nuggets and the first game of this series against the Spurs.
San Antonio limited Curry to "only" 22 points in Game 2, half his production from the double-OT tilt. Of course, Thompson shot the lights out instead and drove them to victory.
The Dubs need a secondary scorer to supplement Curry, and that will be partially dictated by which poison the Spurs' defense chooses.
Golden State has to run and gun its way past the Spurs, and this entails their backcourt trio of Curry, Thompson and Jarrett Jack to put up at least 60 points. San Antonio can't blanket all three shooters, so it will be up to them to work the ball and capitalize on good shot selection.
Stephen Curry played 101 minutes in Games 1 and 2, so Mark Jackson will ideally give him a little bit of rest, especially since their series doesn't get three days off like some teams. The Warriors certainly have the depth in their backcourt to sit Curry for more like 10 minutes.
The Warriors have so much athleticism, they may be evoking San Antonio's nightmares of the Oklahoma City Thunder from last year. The Spurs came in riding a pair of sweeps and took the first two games from OKC. Then the stupendous talent and agility of the Thunder took over and put San Antonio to bed.
But these are still the San Antonio Spurs. There's a reason Popovich has won over 200 playoff games and Tim Duncan has four championship rings.
Despite the home-court advantage in Oakland, the Spurs will get a split in Cali and return home even at two games apiece.
Prediction: Spurs 105, Warriors 98