The Spurs got their revenge. After being on the wrong part of a blowout the first time they met the Warriors, they locked down on defense in San Antonio to take the second matchup, 87-79. This was a close game that came down to a few good plays at the end. LaMarcus Aldridge led the way with 26 points and 13 rebounds, while Stephen Curry had just 14 points on 4-18 shooting in the losing effort.
After getting mauled at Oracle Arena, the Spurs needed to prove they could hang with the defending champions. The Warriors were without Andrew Bogut and started small with Draymond Green at center. So, Tim Duncan came off the bench for just the third time in his career, with Boris Diaw taking his place. It proved to be a smart decision to match Golden State's strategy. The smaller, more mobile starting lineup made life harder for the Warriors on both ends.
Neither team had its offense going early on, which was a complete departure from how things went the first time around. After dropping 62 points on the Spurs' league-best defense in the first half on Jan. 25, Golden State could only score 37 on Saturday. Danny Green did fantastic work on Curry, San Antonio switched to prevent open looks, and the Warriors had no answers in their half-court offense. Aldridge and Leonard, meanwhile, provided enough scoring to keep the Spurs' offense form sputtering completely.
At the half the Spurs were ahead 43-37, a small lead that would continue to be in the Spurs' favor for most of the second half.
The third quarter was not unlike the first two, with the Spurs playing ferocious defense but the Warriors finding ways to stay close. Curry struggled to get going, so Golden State couldn't take control of the game, but they won the quarter and tied the game at 65. Going into the fourth period, a comfortable win by either squad seemed to be out of the question. This one was going down to the wire.
The two teams traded buckets, unable to create separation. The Spurs were the first to get a two possession lead and made the most of it. Aldridge put them up by five with a little over a minute to go, and that bucket ended up determining the outcome of the game. Curry had a chance to cut the deficit, but one of those long threes that typically finds the bottom of the net missed. The Spurs made no mistakes in the closing moments and took the game.
3 things we learned
Gregg Popovich is the king of making adjustments
The Spurs got destroyed in the Bay Area the first time around because they were sloppy and the Warriors are so good that it takes perfection to compete with them when they are focused. Still, there were lessons to learn from that game. Not switching screens and having Tony Parker be the main defender on Curry were not the best ideas. Also, having mobile players is a must to prevent Golden State from getting quality looks.
Pop saw that and adjusted. He sat Duncan and played lineups with just one traditional big man most of the time. He also gave Curry different looks and switched on-ball and even away-from-the-ball screens to prevent the back door cuts that killed them at Oracle. As a result, the defense looked much better this time around and the Spurs had a chance to win the game, unlike on the first matchup.
LaMarcus Aldridge showed up this time
Aldridge was arguably the biggest addition any contender made in the offseason and has made a positive impact in his time in San Antonio. Yet his struggles against elite teams had the Spurs' faithful worried about how he would perform in the playoffs. In the first matchup with Golden State, for example, he was among the worst performers on the court, finishing with five points in nine shots and three turnovers in 25 minutes.
He clearly had something to prove on Saturday and responded well to that pressure, contributing 26 points in a huge San Antonio win. For the Spurs to have a shot against the Warriors in the postseason, Aldridge needs to be the deadly weapon he was during his time in Portland. On Saturday, he showed that he can still be that player, even against the toughest of opponents.
There are two more of these games left!
We had to wait until January to watch the league's two best teams go toe to toe. That patience will be repaid late in the season, as there are still two more matchups between these two teams left in the regular season. We already got to watch a Warriors blowout and a close Spurs win. Who knows what will happen the next time these squads meet.
Neither team has played at full strength. Duncan missed the first matchup, while Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala sat out the second. Hopefully next time around, both teams with be at full force so we get a true preview of a potential Western Conference finals. Even if that doesn't happen, it's obvious by now that Spurs vs. Warriors is must-see TV for NBA fans.
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