The Golden State Warriors' attempt at achieving the NBA's best regular-season record in the modern era continued at the AT&T Center on Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs in a battle of the top two teams in basketball.
After defeating San Antonio by 30 points in its first meeting, though, Golden State ran into a defensive juggernaut and was largely limited as the Spurs fought their way to an 87-79 victory.
San Antonio improved to a perfect 35-0 at home on the season in holding the Warriors to their lowest point total of 2015-16. Although the opening quarter ended with an 18-17 Warriors advantage, the gritty, low-scoring style better suited the Spurs.
Golden State head coach Steve Kerr also got hot and picked up a technical foul with his team trailing 16-11:
The Spurs remained competitive and did an absolute number on superstar Stephen Curry. The reigning league MVP missed 11 of 12 three-point attempts—a credit to a swarming Spurs squad that ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency coming in, per NBA.com.
Since the hosts set the tone in terms of pace, San Antonio had time to gather itself and execute in the half-court offense to take a 43-37 lead into halftime.
ESPN Stats & Info showed how well the Spurs fared when Tony Parker manned up on Curry:
Tony Parker started off defending Stephen Curry on 58% of plays in 1st half— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2016
When Parker started & ended on Curry, GS shot 0-7 (0-4 from 3)
One of the pretty second-quarter plays San Antonio converted came on a dime from Kawhi Leonard to LaMarcus Aldridge:
That was one of four assists for Leonard to go with 18 points and 14 rebounds—including six on the offensive glass.
The duo who figures to carry the torch for the franchise's future has been instrumental in keeping the Spurs in striking distance of the Dubs for the West's No. 1 seed.
But Golden State fought back when it came out of the visiting locker room, as Curry's only shot to fall from beyond the arc came in brilliant fashion over Aldridge to tie the score at 55:
Knotted at 65 entering the last 12 minutes, the marquee showdown had all the makings of an epic finish and was living up to the considerable hype for a regular-season contest.
Marc J. Spears of ESPN noted how that should've made the Warriors a lock to win based on how their season has trended:
Warriors are 54-0 this season when leading or tied entering the fourth frame.— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) March 20, 2016
When Marreese Speights hit a jumper to put the Warriors up by two, ESPN Stats & Info referred to how significant and rare of a development the road team's lead was:
The Warriors are now the 5th Spurs opponent this season to hold a lead in San Antonio in the 4th quarter.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2016
Spurs: 34-0 at home this season
Boris Diaw was a key player for San Antonio, as his combination of finesse and 6'8" size gave the Warriors problems. The same was true for Aldridge, who had 26 points and 13 rebounds.
Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News was impressed with Aldridge's double-double display:
I've criticized his performances vs. the Warriors in the past, but Aldridge is playing very hard tonight.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) March 20, 2016
Diaw was the X-factor, though, shooting 6-of-7 for 14 points and pulling down eight boards. That helped the Spurs gain a 53-37 advantage on the glass, with a 14-7 lead on the offensive end.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich wisely sat Tim Duncan for most of Saturday's game in favor of a quicker frontcourt to counteract the Warriors' uptempo brand of basketball.
ESPN's Michael C. Wright highlighted the immediate dividends Popovich's savvy lineup decision paid:
Boris Diaw started over Tim Duncan, but five minutes into this game, he's already got 6 points and 2 rebounds.— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) March 20, 2016
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News hinted at Popovich's tactical brilliance in praising how unique Golden State's style is:
I've never seen a team change the actual Xs and Os of an opponent's offense and defense the way the Warriors do.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 20, 2016
Curry sat in the fourth quarter until approximately halfway through, and he looked fresher upon his return but couldn't do enough to push Golden State to the top. Klay Thompson shot 1-of-7 from three-point range and had 15 points to Curry's 14.
The Splash Brothers weren't clicking after being hot for much of the team's prior seven-game winning streak.
Actor Samuel L. Jackson was among those who reacted to the Spurs' triumph:
Bizness Handled!! Go Spurs!!!— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) March 20, 2016
ESPN personality Skip Bayless, a known Spurs fanatic, thought the victory was of monumental proportions for the team's postseason outlook:
I don't care who didn't play for Golden St or how cold Steph/Klay were, winning that game was HUGE for my Spurs. CAN beat the Warriors.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) March 20, 2016
Matt Moore of CBSSports.com staged a defense of San Antonio for those who are ready to say the Warriors will inevitably repeat:
‘The Warriors won’t play that badly again.”— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 20, 2016
the spurs won’t play as badly as Game 1. It’s going to be a good series.
Jeopardy Sports! tweeted a fantasy most basketball purists likely share:
The good news in that context is these two teams will meet each other twice more toward the end of the 2015-16 campaign. The plot only thickens now that the Spurs have evened the season series at one game apiece.
As long as the Warriors continue to take care of business, they ought to have the No. 1 seed locked up by then, with the Spurs looming as the ultimate obstacle to try to spoil Golden State's run at the best record, currently held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72-10).
San Antonio tends to rest its veteran stars more often than most, but it will need everyone healthy if home-court advantage is still meant to be a realistic possibility as the playoffs approach.
After Monday's road trip to Minnesota, the 62-7 Warriors play eight of their next nine games at home, culminating in an April 7 battle with the Spurs. That gives them plenty of time to bounce back and reassert themselves as the superior power in the West.
Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding passed along some notable words from Aldridge on how Duncan handled his temporary demotion:
Aldridge said Duncan "didn't pout" and was very positive with his coaching during game: "He's just a great person."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) March 20, 2016
Spurs guard Danny Green implied San Antonio remained humble despite how well it was shutting down Curry, because, per The Vertical's Michael Lee, "You never know what he’s going to come back with."
Green blocked one of Curry's three-point attempts earlier in the game and was glad he did so without fouling.
"Pop always says don't foul a shooter. If you do foul, you give him a heart attack," Green said, per the San Antonio Express-News' Melissa Rohlin.
The Warriors' official Twitter account was able to find a silver lining following the uncommon loss:
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ https://t.co/kIY5HHPJiR— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) March 20, 2016
Kerr could also take some consolation in the excellent effort Golden State put forth, especially since it was without starting center Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli.
"I'm really, really proud of the way we fought tonight," said Kerr, per the team's Twitter feed.
Having just come off a road win against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, Golden State faced a quick turnaround, which may explain why it was a bit flat and didn't score at its usual rate.
But that's not to take away from the extraordinary defense San Antonio played, which suggests it at least has a chance of challenging Golden State in the playoffs.