The Golden State Warriors' 100-91 victory in Game 2 of its second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs won't just send the Dubs back to Oracle Arena with spirits soaring and the satisfaction of their first win in the River City since 1997; it'll also serve as a reminder that Golden State's big lead in Game 1 was no accident.
Before this latest triumph, it would have been easy to assume that the Warriors' massive advantage in the series opener was to be the exception—not the rule. And with the way the Spurs took Game 1 by simultaneously putting a stopper on Golden State's offense while uncorking their own in that furious fourth-quarter comeback, it looked as though the Warriors had taken their best shot and missed.
But Klay Thompson pumped in a career-high 34 points—and led the Warriors with 14 rebounds for good measure—in a Game 2 that looked eerily similar to Game 1, except for one minor detail: This time, the Warriors held on to win.
It was a victory that some observers believe changes the balance of power in the series.
Golden State showed early in Game 2 that it wouldn't be suffering from a hangover from Monday's loss, winning the first quarter, 28-23. The pace and energy the Warriors showed in the first 12 minutes rivaled some of the very best quarters they'd posted in any game this season. Clearly, Golden State believed that it had given away Game 1, and it was on a mission to avoid a second act of generosity.
Brilliant shooting from their guards was, as always, a driving force in the Warriors' success. But as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noted, Stephen Curry and Thompson at least did San Antonio the courtesy of observing the rules of tag-team basketball.
Game 2 was Thompson's turn to tag in, with Curry providing only sporadic bursts of his typical show-stopping shooting.
The big guns weren't the only contributors, though, as the Warriors' rookie trio got involved as well. Perhaps most improbably, Draymond Green continued his shocking accuracy from long range.
The perimeter excellence may soon dry up for Green, but his contributions in other areas (seven rebounds and a team-high five assists in 33 minutes) aren't going anywhere.
In addition, Harrison Barnes continued to display an unflappable cool that simply shouldn't belong to a 20-year-old rookie. His 13 points in 39 minutes didn't constitute his best scoring effort, but his willingness to attack the basket and take big shots was, yet again, impressive.
And Festus Ezeli, he of the stone hands, played excellent defense in spurts and showcased the athleticism that helped make him a viable rotation player this season.
Finally, it'd be unfair to overlook the ongoing defensive brilliance of Andrew Bogut, who, despite continuing to struggle with a bum ankle, still manages to completely dominate the interior when he's on the floor. His ability to force jumpers from Duncan and control the boards (Bogut had 11 pulls in Game 2) has been hugely important.
But everything came back to Thompson, who not only carried the Warriors' offense in the first half, but also continued his remarkable growth into a legitimate two-way threat. His defense on Tony Parker was key to the Warriors success—and more generally, his ability to stick with the opposing team's most dangerous backcourt scorer gives Golden State the kind of defensive weapon that every playoff team needs.
For his part, Thompson is proud of his evolution, but as is his nature, he's not particularly talkative on the topic.
After just 23 wins in last year's lockout-shortened campaign and just one other playoff appearance in the past couple of decades, it'd be easy for the Warriors to consider this season a success no matter what happens the rest of the way.
Apparently, the Dubs aren't interested in doing that. They're not satisfied, and even more importantly, they're firm believers that they belong in these playoffs.
Some of the shaky ball-handling remained, Jarrett Jack fell in love with calling his own number a few too many times, and Golden State still seemed as though it was playing not to lose down the stretch, but in the end, the reduced impact of each of those mistakes resulted in a series-shifting victory.
The Warriors aren't a perfect team, but we've gone way past the point of calling them a fluke.
Whenever a team blows a lead like the Warriors did in Game 1, it's tempting to draw the conclusion that the squad that came back (in this instance, the Spurs) somehow set things right by erasing the deficit. But we now know that the real takeaway from Games 1 and 2 is that Golden State is good enough to pull away from the Spurs and win this series.
After all, big leads don't happen by accident.
If the Spurs aren't on top of their game when this series shifts to Oakland on Friday, the Warriors are going to have themselves another lead. And this time, it'll be in the form of a 2-1 advantage in the series.