Warriors answer Spurs' physical counterpunch in Game 2 the only way they know
After beating up Golden State in the first half, San Antonio just couldn't keep up offensively
OAKLAND, Calif. -- We knew the Spurs would throw a counterpunch -- we just didn't know it would be a literal one.
The grunts, slaps and complaints were numerous in the Warriors' 116-101, Game 2 win over the Spurs, and they could be heard throughout the raucous Oracle Arena. San Antonio guards Danny Green and Patty Mills were picking up full-court from the opening whistle, and it didn't take long to decipher San Antonio's mission from general Gregg Popovich: Make the Warriors earn everything they get, no matter what it takes.
There were 21 combined fouls in the first half alone, and that doesn't include the bumps, chops, kicks and body checks that didn't draw a whistle. It clearly frustrated the Warriors, who spent more time complaining in the first half than scoring, and it led to a 53-47 Spurs halftime lead.
The length and quick hands of the San Antonio defense were all over the place -- on the Warriors players, in the passing lanes, on the basketball -- causing 11 first-half Warrior turnovers.
"I mean, they just took it to us the whole first half," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said after the game. "They were tremendous defensively. That's, I think the second-best defense in the league statistically and they showed it in the first half. They got after us. They took away everything we were trying to do."
But unlike the turnovers from Game 1, which Kerr called "careless," this time it was the Spurs defense causing the majority of the problems.
"They were in us on every cut, every pass," Kerr said. "And so we had a few mistakes that were unforced, but I think most of them came because of their pressure. They were getting into us and we just couldn't find a rhythm."
Unfortunately for the Spurs, the game didn't end after the first half.
The Warriors came out with a trademark third-quarter run, and though the Spurs managed to control the fire, Golden State took a five-point lead into the fourth. It wasn't that the Spurs were less physical, it was more that the Warriors attacked so quickly that they didn't give the defenders a chance to do the same damage they did in the first half.
Early third-quarter buckets by JaVale McGee around the rim opened things up for the Warriors' stars, and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson scored 11 and eight in the frame, respectively, to get the crowd going and the Warriors rolling. By the 10:24 mark of the fourth, Golden State led by 11 points and the Spurs looked helpless.
So what was the big rah-rah halftime speech from Kerr that got everyone pumped up? Nothing, really. The Warriors knew what they had to do after taking a first-half punch to the jaw, and they responded without much motivation.
"We knew that was coming," Warriors guard Andre Iguodala said of the Spurs' physicality. "And then we had to do a little adjusting to it, but we had to expect it. I think our first possession might have been a turnover. In the second half, their first possession was a turnover. We've got to get a quicker feel of the physicality of the game -- how it's being reffed, what they're gonna let go -- and be prepared to make any changes needed."
The Spurs' second-half woes were nothing new to anyone who has watched them play this season. Popovich was clear about the offensive focus for Game 2 during his pregame press conference, when he addressed why Rudy Gay would be making the start instead of Kyle Anderson: They needed to put the ball in the basket.
Gay certainly did his part with 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting, but the big story for the Spurs offense was the resurgence of LaMarcus Aldridge, who put up 34 points and 12 rebounds after scoring just 14 points in Game 1. He was more assertive from the jump on Monday, using a wide array of moves on McGee, who had stonewalled Aldridge on more than a few attempts in the series opener.
But still, as is the case with so many teams, San Antonio just couldn't keep up with the explosive Warriors offense in the second half.
"You know, both teams are going to make mistakes here and there and that's fine, but the ball has to go in the basket, and that's the difference in the ball game," Popovich said. "I was really happy with their execution and their aggressiveness, and hopefully we'll keep that and stick together. But you've got to make shots, and it's been like that the entire year on the road for us, for whatever reason, and it really showed up tonight."
Sure enough, the box score immediately underscores Pop's point: The Warriors shot 15 of 31 from behind the 3-point arc, led by a second-half barrage, while the Spurs were just 4 for 28. You can't help but wonder what this game might have looked like for the Spurs if they had their former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who is off with what Popovich calls "his group" while rehabbing a quad injury in New York.
But he's not walking through that door, so the Spurs are left with the offense that they have. And it looks like that won't be enough to compete with the high-octane Warriors this series.
Even so, Golden State has been through this kind of thing enough times to know that they can't expect a second-half onslaught of 3-pointers to save them when the series shifts to San Antonio on Thursday.
"It's gonna be important for us to come out and get a good start for Game 3," Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said after the game. "They're gonna try to get their crowd into it. Playing on the road, we obviously have some experience. So, definitely important to get a good start."
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