The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors squared off for the first time this year Monday night amid sky-high expectations and much-deserved hype — only to end up a total let down, as the Warriors blew out Gregg Popovich’s crew before the fourth quarter even began and seizing a decisive 120-90 win.
Yes, it’s only January, and yes, a key player didn’t suit up. But there are still a few important lessons to take away from this lopsided victory. Here are five:
5. Turnovers will undo the plans of even the best teams
The Spurs played two sheets to the wind in the first half, turning the ball over 13 times on their way to a season-high 25-turnover night — embarrassing and uncharacteristic of everything we know about San Antonio. They made one bad pass after another, and were careless with the ball, skidding 55 miles per hour into a brick wall on every other possession.
Sometimes a turnover feels like a paper cut: annoying, but not the end of the world. But against Golden State, turnovers are like a great white shark attack: utterly devastating. The Spurs, who take pride in their transition defense, sat like chum in the water against the most explosive open-court offense in basketball history.
Turnovers are an efficient recipe for self-destruction, and the Spurs can’t/won’t be as inattentive the next time these two match up.
4. Nobody beats Golden State at its own game
Small ball is the Warriors’ thing. They’ve perfected it with an ideal cast of characters who space the floor, move the ball, keep their man in front of them and, most importantly, make shots. Everything about this is unprecedented.
On Monday night, the Spurs tried to fight fire with fire, with lineups that featured Kawhi Leonard at power forward and LaMarcus Aldridge at center. Again, this was an out-of-character move for the Spurs, a team that relies on size and length to get the best of offenses who want to attack inside.
Going small against the Warriors proved virtually impossible. Leonard and Aldridge needed to destroy their one-on-one match ups on the other end, but Draymond Green held four-time All-Star Aldridge to five points on nine shots.
It was very ugly, and Golden State didn’t even utilize its most lethal small-ball lineup. This kind of brings us to our next point …
3. Tim Duncan is more important than we thought
Duncan missed the game with a sore right knee. How sore? Who knows. But Gregg Popovich didn’t seem too worried about it.
Would the Spurs have won with a healthy Duncan starting at center? Probably not. The Warriors shot 56.3 percent in the restricted area and 57.1 percent in the non-restricted area of the paint on Monday night. On average, they attempt 29.9 shots within five feet of the rim per game. Against the Duncan-less Spurs, they got off 40 attempts, not including drawn fouls.
That’s a seismic difference.
It’s hard to believe that the NBA’s leader in Defensive Real Plus-Minus would not have made a difference in the outcome, particularly as a communicator along the back line. But in this specific instance — a freaking 30-point blowout — it’s unlikely the 39-year-old could do too much to save the day.
For what it’s worth: This is how the Spurs feel when Duncan’s healthy:
2. Tony Parker has nowhere to hide
Parker had a rough night. Not only did he score just five points in 18 minutes, but the 33-year-old looked 74 on the other end — a problematic assignment against just about every player Popovich had him guard. Here, the Spurs are forced to send a double team with Parker matched up on the taller Andre Iguodala. Look what happens:
It’s unclear how San Antonio can solve this problem. Parker struggled against Steph Curry, Shaun Livingston, Harrison Barnes and Iguodala. It was really hard to watch.
Is it crazy to think the Spurs should start Patty Mills against the Warriors and get Tony Parker minutes against second units?
Which leads us to our last and most important lesson …
1. Stephen Curry is the best player alive
The Spurs have the best defense in basketball, and one of the best defenses the NBA has ever seen. Kawhi Leonard, the best individual defender on the planet, is on their team. They petrify offensive schemes and blow up sets before they can even begin.
But their defense was shredded last night. Why? Because Stephen Curry plays for the other team. San Antonio threw Leonard on him and it didn’t work. They tried covering him with Parker and Patty Mills. Nothing.
In pick-and-roll situations, the Spurs took away Green’s playmaking ability by routinely switching a big, like Aldridge, onto him. That definitely didn’t go well:
There’s not much else to say. Curry is the best basketball player breathing. And the Spurs must figure out how to slow him down if they want to win their sixth NBA championship this season.