Win over Warriors gives Spurs insight, strategy to defeat the champs –

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SAN ANTONIO — Draymond Green was a hundred percent accurate in his postgame comments after the Golden State Warriors suffered their seventh defeat of the season, a 87-79 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night.

Looking like a totally different team from their first meeting in January, the Spurs’ defense slow downed Golden State’s high-powered offense, which in turn methodically slowed down its own offense, further bringing the game’s pace to a plodding pace. This didn’t surprise Green.

After winning that first matchup by 30 points, Green and the Warriors expected a better effort from the Spurs because, well, it wasn’t that hard to do. They’re the Spurs, after all, and simply played quite poorly in their first meeting.

“I think they had a better game, but if they took advantage of their size, I’m not sure they only win by eight and we play the way that we [usually] play,” Green said via the Bay Area News Group’s Diamond Leung. “ So yeah, I think they had a better game than last game, which shouldn’t have been that hard.”

It was a hardfought win by the Spurs though. The game was tied at 65-all entering the fourth, and until Saturday, the Warriors were 54-0 all season when leading or tied heading into the final quarter. Timely shots by LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green secured the victory for San Antonio to remain perfect at home (35-0). Still, it was its defense that ultimately was the deciding factor.

“I told the guys I thought their execution and competitiveness defensively were outstanding and that’s something you can depend on night after night,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “You never know if you’re going to make shots or not, but if you can be consistent with your defense you’re in the ballgame. And I thought that this was one of our better execution games in following what we were trying to do.”

What the Spurs were trying to do, and probably will still be doing the next couple of times the two teams meet in the regular season, is figure out a strategy that actually is successful against Golden State. This has been in the forefront of the Spurs’ mind all season, especially for Popovich, who once described the Warriors as “unsolvable.” Manu Ginobili has echoed similar thoughts, believing that the Spurs may not truly figure out the Warriors until they face each other in the playoffs. However, Saturday’s win showed that the Spurs are making steps in the right direction.

In their second showdown of the season, the Spurs used a strategy of constantly switching on defense, and not allowing the Warriors to exploit mismatches. They also consistently closed out and contested Golden State’s three-point attempts, not letting the Warriors to get comfortable from long range. Golden State shot an uncharacteristic 25 percent from beyond the arc, connecting on just nine three-pointers — a far cry from the 22 3s they made on Friday against the Dallas Mavericks.

San Antonio also hounded Stephen Curry all game, never allowing the NBA’s best scorer an opportunity to go off. Curry had one of his worst games of the season, shooting 4 of 18 from the field, including just 1 of 12 from 3-point range to finish with 14 points. The Spurs didn’t just have one defender slow down Curry, it was team effort driven by their constant switching and doubling up on screens.

“It wasn’t just Danny Green. I thought everybody did a great job,” Popovich said. “The bigs were up, and they were participating in situations that they’re not usually in. So I thought everybody was good.”

Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge did an admirable job of containing Curry and so did Kawhi Leonard. Despite what Popovich says, Green, who spent the majority of time on the reigning MVP, made the biggest difference on Curry.

Curry shot 1 of 5 against Green and was even blocked twice by the Spurs guard, including on a three-point attempt, which marked the first time any player had blocked a Curry three this season. Green’s second block was a rejection that came out of nowhere, where he basically hurdled over Parker just to knock Curry’s layup attempt away. Despite these moments and his excellent overall defensive effort, Green downplayed any talk that he locked up Curry. He was well aware that the Warriors were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and that Curry’s shot was not dropping like usual.

“You send a message to that guy, you never know what he’s going to come back with,” Green said about Curry.

Aside the Spurs’ defensive tactics, they also made a big switch in the lineup to mirror the Warriors’ small-ball unit. An injury to Andrew Bogut forced Golden State to start Green at center, Harrison Barnes at power forward and Brandon Rush at small forward. San Antonio countered by starting Boris Diaw in place of Tim Duncan, making this the first time since 2010 that the Spurs star center didn’t start a game. This move worked masterfully for the Spurs.

“He was great for us,” Green said about Diaw. “Switching onto those guards is not an easy task for guards. You can imagine how hard it is for bigs. Inside, he did a great job offensive rebounding it and defensive rebounding. But also, going at them in the post and giving us another threat inside, making them change and adjust defenses and double-teaming. So he was big for us tonight.”

Diaw finished the game with 14 points, eight rebounds and two assists. On several occasions, San Antonio ran its offense through Diaw in the post and he was able to keep the ball moving or would score on Barnes, who had some real difficulty in guarding the Spurs big man. It was a move that Popovich said he did simply because of the players Golden State had.

“You make decisions all the time,” Popovich said. “You just try to do what you think is best for the group. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be right or wrong every time. But you just make decisions based on what’s going on and what’s in front of you.”

The decision to have Duncan come off the bench was an interesting one, but it worked out. Duncan missed the first meeting against Golden State in January and his presence on defense was sorely missed by the Spurs in that game. However, with injuries to Bogut and Festus Ezeli, the Warriors stayed small for the majority of the game and San Antonio surprisingly didn’t need Duncan on the court. He played just eight minutes in the first half, recording one point and two rebounds but his actions from the bench — coaching and advising his teammates — lifted up the Spurs.

“To take a backseat and be our biggest cheerleader on that bench, encouraging guys and not having his head down, he’s the ultimate professional,” Aldridge said about Duncan. “He’s a coach, too.”

“That’s what the Spurs are about,” Diaw said. “The culture here is everybody is selfless and unselfish. So for [Duncan], if he knows that the game plan is to win the game, he’s going to be on board with it.”

This is what makes the Spurs so unique and perhaps the best matchup for Golden State.

Similar to the Warriors, the Spurs have incredible depth, talented stars and a coach that thinks outside the box — like essentially benching one of their franchise players to get a win. Still, this was just a regular-season win. An important one for sure, yet like Draymond remarked, the Warriors weren’t at full strength (Andre Iguodala continues to be out with an ankle injury) and had just played the night before.

The Spurs are well aware of this, which is why they all downplayed the victory, acknowledging that despite the playoff atmosphere it was only a regular-season game. The win did provide the Spurs with some successful strategies that work against the Warriors, yet they aren’t getting too ahead of themselves.

“Whoever wins this game isn’t automatically advancing to the Finals,” Leonard said. “It’s another game. Just trying to get better, each and every game going into the playoffs.”

The Spurs discuss their strategy to beat the Warriors.
The Spurs discuss their strategy to beat the Warriors. (USATSI)

Win over Warriors gives Spurs insight, strategy to defeat the champs –