Young teams don’t do that.
They don’t take a 16-point lead on the road with four minutes of play remaining, fumble it away in heart-breaking fashion and come back to win the next game in a hostile environment in which they had not won since 1997. Especially not against the San Antonio Spurs.
Yet the Golden State Warriors did that on Wednesday night, with a 100-91 victory in San Antonio. And they did it with their best player having one of his worst games of the postseason. If you were to tell Gregg Popovich before the game that his team would limit Stephen Curry to 22 points on 7-of-20 shooting from the field, 2-of-6 from three, coming off of a monumental collapse the previous game, a cruel smile would have permeated his face.
That’s exactly what happened. But Popovich isn’t smiling.
In a series most experts had San Antonio cruising through, the Warriors have given the Spurs all they can handle and then some. If Game 2 was a harbinger for the development of these Warriors, it’s not just Popovich who will be left frustrated. It’s the entire league.
Curry is a phenomenal shooter, one of the few stars in the league who warrants a defensive game plan by the opposition all to himself. The Spurs came up with one, stuck to it and effectively shut Curry down (as much as humanly possible, anyway). The Warriors showed they’re no one-trick pony.
With Curry consistently bottled up, Klay Thompson didn’t just pick up the slack—he provided a half of basketball worthy of Curry himself. The Spurs found themselves helpless to the greatness of Thompson, allowing him to net eight of nine shots during his three-point barrage, registering 29 points in the first half and 34 for the game. Oh, and he had 14 rebounds, too.
Mark Jackson recently said that he has the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the NBA (via The Mercury News). After witnessing the clinic Thompson put on it Game 2 coupled with the consistent excellence Curry has shown throughout the season, who are we to argue?
Those two are enough to give any coach nightmares. Unfortunately for Popovich, it doesn’t end there. Andrew Bogut has finally come into his own, becoming the inside presence Warriors management expected when they shipped Monta Ellis out of town. While Thompson has indeed played phenomenal defense on the legendary Tony Parker, the mere presence of Bogut inside has been enough to make Parker think twice before entering the paint.
And then there are the rookies. Yes, rookies. Plural. As in three of the them. Jackson has shown no reservations in putting the youngsters on the court, going as far as to actually starting two of them, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, in Game 2. There are no wide-eyed kids on this team. All three, Festus Ezeli being the third, have played meaningful minutes and provided significant contributions, be it shooting from Barnes, defense from Green or rebounding from Ezeli.
Thompson and Curry have garnered significant praise for their play this season. And rightfully so. But what has Popovich and the Spurs sweating is the contributions from everyone else.
For a team that has prided itself over the years on its commitment to team play and ball movement, the Spurs might have just come to a scary realization: The Warriors value those same virtues and might just have the personnel to pull off the unimaginable.