The Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs came into Saturday night’s game under very different circumstances. Accordingly, they had different needs and wants.
The Spurs have been rolling, were as healthy as they’ve been all year, and were playing at home. They had Friday off, and had enjoyed a blowout win on Thursday night against Portland (also at home) that allowed them to rest all their starters for the entire fourth quarter.
The Warriors were down one starter (Andrew Bogut), their most important reserve (Andre Iguodala), and Bogut’s backup (Festus Ezeli). They played a very tough game at Dallas on Friday night, one in which the Mavericks were within five points with three minutes to play. They won by 18, but Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were all in the game deep into the fourth quarter.
The Dallas game was one the Warriors could not afford to lose, because they knew there was a strong possibility, even a likelihood, that they would lose in San Antonio. They know that if they beat all the “non-Spurs” teams on their schedule, the Spurs can’t catch them for the best record in the West, which they believe is crucial to their return to the NBA Finals this year. They also know that even if they lose again in San Antonio — where they have to play one more time this season — they should be able to fend off the Spurs as long as they win the remaining home game in Oracle Arena. San Antonio has to sweep those two April games to have any chance at this point.
In case you missed it, the Warriors haven’t won a regular season game in San Antonio since 1997. Saturday night’s result was the 33rd straight time the W’s have gone down to the Alamo and gone down to defeat.
You might be tempted to point out that the Warriors lost a lot of games in the period between 1997 and last year, and you’d be right. They always, however, managed to win at least a few games in each NBA city… except San Antonio. You can see why the idea of facing the Spurs in a seven-game Western Conference Finals series without home-court advantage is not very enticing to the Dubs.
So let’s look at who came away with what Saturday night. It’s my belief that both teams got what they needed out of the matchup, but that neither got what they were truly hoping for.
The Spurs NEEDED to win. The defensive effort from Danny Green (above) offered an illustration of how much San Antonio put into this game.
Pure and simple, a loss would have ended any realistic chance for the Spurs to wrest that best record away from the Warriors. They would have been five games back with just 13 to play, with only two head-to-head matches left. It would have also meant the Spurs could not win the season series outright, which throws the tie-breaker toward the Warriors. Therefore, the Spurs can check that box. They won the game, and kept their hopes alive for home court through the playoffs.
What they WANTED to do, however, is win in convincing fashion against a Warrior team facing the many deficits I’ve already mentioned. Throw in the fact that the Spurs essentially shut down the powerful Warrior offense, and it’s even more disappointing that Golden State was still in the game with a minute to play. The Spurs didn’t get what they wanted, which was to win emphatically.
The Warriors, on the other hand, didn’t need to win. They WANTED to win. Their effort on the defensive end against the Spurs is all the proof one needs to support that claim. Today, they still have a three-game lead with 13 to play, with the head-to-head series tied at one apiece.
What they NEEDED to do, however, was show that even without Iguodala, Bogut and Ezeli, on the second night of a back-to-back with a very difficult front end — with Curry and Thompson combining to make only two three-point shots — they could play the Spurs within an inch of their lives… on the road. They have to feel that if they had anything go their way in that game for even two minutes, they would have won it.
That’s not to say that they don’t have tremendous respect for the Spurs, of course. Steve Kerr said after Friday night’s game in Dallas that “if I had any guts, I’d sit everybody” against the Spurs. He knew his team was a significant underdog, tired and banged up, but his respect for the Spurs was likely one of the factors that compelled him to try to get the win.
Once Kerr made that decision, it became imperative that the Warriors be competitive. It would have been better if they played well, but they fought hard all night and were in the game down to the final minute, and they gained a lot from that.
We need to take a moment here and appreciate what these two teams are doing this season. Neither has lost a home game (67-0 between the two). Their combined winning percentage is the highest of any teams in NBA history to meet this late in the season. They both have a very realistic chance to win 70 games, which is incredible in itself, and becomes more so when you realize that they have to play each other four times, twice more before the regular season ends.
On Saturday night these two great teams met, and while it would be very difficult to call it a great game, it was good enough for both, and that just has to be good enough for the rest of us.