The Spurs took an early 25-point advantage and sat in the driver’s seat for most of the match before coming undone in the second half. Even still, San Antonio would have drawn first blood were it not for injuries, second-chance opportunities, and a fortuitous bounce on a running floater by Stephen Curry.
Here are five takeaways from Game 1.
Beaten to the punch
Call it rust, arrogance, or a lack of preparation, but the Warriors did not come ready to play against the Spurs. The away side was more physical, more pinpoint with their passes, and battered the dizzy Warriors down low.
San Antonio held a 30-16 advantage after the first quarter while holding Golden State to 6-of-21 shooting from the field with six turnovers. Having dispatched of the Houston Rockets on Thursday, the Spurs played with far more urgency than the Warriors who were stuck in the mud after a week off.
The Spurs were especially aggressive on the ball, which might have taken the Warriors by surprise. Golden State loves to run motion offense through the post and have cutters going to the basket or fanning out to the 3-point line, but even the simplest passing lanes were cut off.
Golden State doubled their woes by playing sloppy transition defense on top of their sleepy offense. Thirty-six-year-old Pau Gasol shouldn’t beat anyone in the open court.
The Warriors eventually picked up their activity in the second half following a rousing speech from ailing head coach Steve Kerr, but they’ll need to start sharper in the games going forward.
“It’s going to take a much better start, a much more focused start, and just get to who we are in those first three minutes on both ends of the floor,” Curry said. “Tonight that didn’t happen, and they took advantage of it.”
Spurs fell apart without Kawhi
Golden State made the comeback by simplifying the offense and trusting in the individual abilities of Curry and Kevin Durant to score in isolation against mismatches, but the elephant in the room was Kawhi Leonard‘s injury.
Leonard’s absence killed the Spurs’ offense, especially when the pace slowed to a half-court game for the second half. San Antonio shot 13-of-35 in the final 20 minutes without Leonard along with eight turnovers.
“(Leonard’s absence) was huge,” Manu Ginobilisaid. “We need Kawhi to create, to score. It means a lot to this team, and we were doing really well. When he went down, the Warriors were starting to pick up, to feel good about themselves, to increase the pressure on everybody else, and that’s when we struggled, because we couldn’t have the guy that we run those plays and get them off their pressure.”
Playing bad offense against the Warriors is throwing gas on the fire. Golden State scored 17 points off Spurs turnovers in the final 20 minutes, with Durant scoring 11 on his own.
Leonard had 26 points in 24 minutes and tried 11 free throws, which stopped the ball and allowed the Spurs to set their defense. Even with a 25-point lead, the Spurs couldn’t survive his absence.
LaMarcus dominates, then disappears
If Leonard misses more time with his problematic ankle, the Spurs will need even more from LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 28 points Sunday.
Aldridge dominated early by capitalizing on the Warriors’ switches. He bullied the stick-thin Durant by getting to the middle of the floor from the post and unleashing a variety of flip shots and layups. He finished with 17 points in the first half on 7-of-11 shooting. Note how effective he was in the middle of the paint.
The second half was a different story entirely. The Warriors put more bulk on Aldridge with Green and Zaza Pachulia instead of Durant, and no longer could he get to the middle. All Aldridge had left were a smattering of missed jumpers out of the left block.
This type of maddening inconsistency is characteristic of Aldridge’s tenure in San Antonio. Without Leonard, the Spurs can only affix their hopes to Aldridge’s streakiness because Ginobili and their assortment of role players aren’t beating the Warriors.
Spurs should stay small and athletic
The Spurs were at their best when they downsized for speed and defense after Leonard went out.
Gregg Popovich got great minutes by mixing four of Ginobili, Kyle Anderson, Dejounte Murray, Danny Green, and Jonathon Simmons around an active center like David Lee. Those lineups allowed the Spurs to tread water for an eight-minute stretch between the third and fourth quarters.
Granted, some of those minutes came during Mike Brown’s inexplicable decision to sit both Curry and Durant at once, but more quicker, switchable defenders will always help against a perimeter-oriented team like the Warriors. Stretching the open floor with athletic finishers is a nice added bonus.
Warriors’ weakness exposed
Golden State’s lone weakness is the center spot when Green isn’t playing five. They were lucky to get solid production from Pachulia, but it was a disaster whenever David West and JaVale McGee stepped on the court.
West had one point against two turnovers and was minus-11 in eight minutes. McGee didn’t even get a shot off and was a minus-11 in five minutes. Both players were soundly played off the court.
McGee gave the Warriors a spark off the bench in their last two rounds, but he’s mostly a player that capitalizes on mistakes and the Spurs are the most disciplined team in the league. There was no separation available for McGee to sky for lobs and it was a clown show when he tried to dribble.
West should play better going forward, but the Warriors have to help him out by putting better scorers around him. He shared the floor with a rusty Matt Barnes, an ice-cold Klay Thompson, and two limited scorers in Andre Iguodala and Green in his first stint. That lineup was predictably poor and Brown eventually adjusted by putting in Shaun Livingston and Ian Clark for West’s second shift.