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What we learned in the Warriors’ Game 2 over the Spurs

OAKLAND — Here’s a quick question: Do you think the Spurs can beat the Warriors four out of five times?

Because that’s what San Antonio will have to do to win this first-round playoff series with Golden State.

If you, like me, answered “no”, then you understand how important Monday’s Game 2 was.

The final score — Warriors 116 – Spurs 101 — wasn’t indicative of the true nature of the contest. This was a close game, but ultimately the overwhelming truth of this series rung true once again: San Antonio doesn’t have the talent to keep up with the Warriors.

That said, the Warriors will have to play significantly better in Game 3 in San Antonio if they want to wrap up this series in four games — the Spurs are a much better team at home and the Warriors showed, at least for a half, that they can keep San Antonio in a game with turnovers.

This series is over, but it’s still going to be interesting.

Here’s what else we learned in a pivotal Game 2:

The Spurs wanted a rock fight, and for a while, they got one

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gestures to an official while playing the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter of Game 2 of their NBA first-round playoff series at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, April 16, 2018. The Golden State Warriors defeated the San Antonio Spurs 116-101. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Spend enough time with the Golden State Warriors and you’re bound to hear the word once, twice, or a few hundred times:


The Warriors want to play an up-tempo, free-wheeling, offensive game — they want to play with joy.

In Saturday’s Game 1, the Warriors were able to do that — even without Stephen Curry in the lineup.

But the first half of Game 2 was was anything but joyful for Golden State.

There’s a reason that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is considered one of the best (if not the best) coach in NBA history — after learning (or having his suspicion confirmed to him) in Game 1 that his team could absolutely, positively, not keep up with the talent of the Warriors, he devised a clever game plan to turn Monday’s Game 2 into a slow-it-down, grind-it-out affair.

The Spurs turned Game 2 into a rock fight. With a renewed energy and a hyper-aggressive defensive mindset, the Spurs were able to negate their talent deficiency with physicality in the early goings Monday.

Amid a cacophony of whistles (SO MANY WHISTLES) and wave after wave of San Antonio defensive pressure, the Warriors were never able to establish an offensive rhythm in the first half. San Antonio led by six at the half.

The Spurs defensive effort on Monday was reminiscent not of great Spurs teams of the past or other lock-down defenses — it reminded me most of the heyday of the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom defense.

Those Seahawks teams, led by Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor in the secondary, had a simple, but effective gameplan: their goal, week in and week out, was to normalize holding, illegal contact, and pass interference from the first snap of the game.

It might have been an unsporting position, but it was some outstanding game theory — the Seahawks dared NFL officials to throw a flag on every single down because they knew they wouldn’t do it. Football is an entertainment product, after all.

Whether they want to admit it or not, the Spurs did the same thing on Monday: from the opening tip of Game 2 they grabbed, pushed, shouldered, and swiped at the Warriors, and, for the most part, they got away with it, in large part because they were so deft at where and when they did it.

There was the subtle push on the block, the over-the-top chop at the ball amid a sea of jerseys, and oh my was there chest thumping. The Spurs took the leniency referees give teams in the playoffs and took full advantage and more.

Now the Warriors exacerbated a bad situation for themselves with 11 first-half turnovers, but I can’t help but think that something more sinister was part of Popovich’s plan.

Yes, Pop wanted his team to physically control the game against the Warriors, and for two quarters, they did that, but I also think that part of the Spurs’ game plan was to rattle the Warriors’ emotions.

Think about it: What are the Warriors’ two largest weaknesses?

Turnovers and emotional volatility.

What the Spurs did in the first half of Monday’s game could have produced both outcomes.

This guy is good…

Credit to the Warriors, though, they kept their cool (save for Draymond Green, late), despite some questionable officiating in the first two quarters. And when the Warriors stopped turning the ball over, they started to pull away from San Antonio in the second half.

(There were other factors at play — don’t get me wrong — but curtailing the turnovers was huge.)

That said, I cannot imagine that the Spurs won’t try the same tactic again in Game 3.

On the road, will the Warriors be able to protect the ball and maintain their cool?

For the Warriors, it’s anyone but LaMarcus

I thought LaMarcus Aldridge had a tremendous Game 2. He was physical, he was aggressive, and he rebounded a lot better on Monday.

He did his part.

No one else on the Spurs did.

In the second half, the Warriors remembered their gameplan from Game 1: let anyone buy LaMarcus beat you. Sure enough, the plan worked again — San Antonio made a grand total of four 3-pointers on Monday, and it wasn’t for a lack of open looks.

Could some of those shots start falling at home? Perhaps — I don’t understand the Spurs’ home/road discrepancies (they’re a terrible road team) — but the Warriors should stick with the gameplan of frequently double-teaming Aldridge and leaving a shooter open until San Antonio actually burns them on it.

I don’t know when that will happen, but I do know that Aldridge made a bunch of tough shots on Monday. He might be due for a clunker back in Texas and that could make Game 3 a laugher.

Iguodala is your series MVP to date

I don’t want to take anything away from Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, who have both been completely spectacular in this series (Durant’s defense on Aldridge is particularly noteworthy), but I’d like to make the case for Andre Iguodala as the Warriors’ MVP for the first two games of the series.

Not only is Iguodala starting at point guard — and doing a fine job at that — he’s also guarding all five positions and rebounding out of his gourd right now. Those are two huge factors in the Warriors’ 2-0 lead (Golden State has outrebounded San Antonio — a much better rebounding team in the regular season — in both games of this series).

Oh yeah, Iguodala has made five 3-pointers in the series as well behind four — FOUR! — on Monday.

I’ll admit, MVP might be too strong, but Iguodala, despite his incredible, probably Hall of Fame resume, has certainly been the most surprising player in this series.

Remember, Iguodala made only three 3-pointers — total — in both December and January. He only made five in February.

And while the veteran hasn’t pretended as if he hasn’t been pacing himself for April, May, and June, it’s still worth noting how vital he’s been to the Warriors’ offense in this series. We knew he was going to bring his defensive genius (and make no mistake, that’s what it is), but this is a bonus for the Warriors.

Durant and Thompson are going to get theirs — and the Warriors need every bit of their typical output and more. But when the Warriors get Iguodala scoring in double-digits, they’re almost unstoppable.

When Iguodala played alongside Durant and had double-digit points, the Warriors didn’t lose this year.

David West is the Warriors’ best center again

No offense to JaVale McGee, who I thought was good again on Monday (though not as good as his near-perfect game on Saturday — he simply took more chances on defense in Game 2 and failed, quite dramatically, a few times) and Kevon Looney, who has been stellar on defense, David West re-established himself as the Warriors’ best center on Monday.

Not only did West chip in vital offense, he was a force on the defensive end. Aldridge had a great game, but he wanted no part of West.

That’s why it’s a shame that West could miss Game 3 — after a poor finish to the season, West looked like his old self again on Monday.

Steve Kerr said after the game that West told him the injury — I believe it’s his ankle — wasn’t that bad, but that remains to be seen. If West can’t go, the Warriors will have to turn to Zaza Pachulia or more Draymond at center minutes — though here’s a suggestion: Golden State can run Durant at the 5 for a bit.

Ideally, none of those scenarios come to pass — you don’t want anyone to be injured, on either team — but West’s injury is something to watch over the next two days.

Draymond wants his flagrant foul rescinded

I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Green is probably right: Bertans flopped. But Green’s action, from my vantage point, was over the line. It doesn’t matter how frustrated Green was from a few moments before — the two had been going at it — the call on the floor wasn’t out of line. Again, just my take on the scenario.

We’ll see if the NBA agrees — the league office is inscrutable on these sorts of things, but my guess is that Green’s flagrant will stand and that could have significant ramifications down the line for the Warriors.

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