OAKLAND – Nobody had to wonder if Gregg Popovich sensed the importance of his team’s matchup against the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on Monday night. More than an hour before tipoff the Spurs coach acknowledged a rare feeling.
“I’ve got butterflies in my gut, excited about the game,” the Spurs coach said. “I don’t feel like that every night.”
By the time the sWarriors reserves had put the finishing touches on a 120-90 thumping of the Spurs that left them perplexed and numb, Popovich’s players had a feeling they hadn’t experienced since the 2011-12 season, when the Portland Trail Blazers beat a grossly short-handed Spurs squad by 40 points, 137-97, on Feb. 21, 2012.
This time, the Spurs were nearly at full strength. Team captain Tim Duncan may have been missing Monday, out with a sore right knee, but his absence hardly accounted for the worst blowout loss in nearly four years.
“We can’t blame it on that,” said Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who was part of the Trail Blazers team that scored that 40-point win in 2012. “They got us a number of ways. We can’t blame it on that, for sure.”
Golden State’s dominating win snapped the Spurs’ 13-game win streak and reminded the basketball loving world that the Warriors are on a path to the best record in NBA history for a lot of reasons. Chief among them: Reigning Most Valuable Player Steph Curry’s offensive genius.
Curry made 12-of-20 shots and scored 37 points. He didn’t play a minute of the fourth quarter because by the time it began the Warriors already had scored 95 points against a Spurs team that had held 31 previous opponents to 95 points in all four quarters.
Curry was the leader of a Warriors attack that shredded the NBA’s best defense. On one play he left reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard clutching at air as he crossed him over for an uncontested 3-pointer.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, the former Spurs guard who guided Golden State to the 2015 NBA title in his first year on the team’s bench, credited Curry’s ability to learn from past mistakes against any opponent.
“I remember in San Antonio late last season Kawhi guarding him a little bit and I remember him stealing the ball from him at half court. Once you play a guy you learn their tendencies and feel a little more comfortable. Steph embraces challenges and I think he took it as a challenge.
“But it was our night and it wasn’t theirs.”
What accounted for the Spurs’ overall defensive malaise on this night that belonged to their opponent, from start to finish?
Popovich credited the Warriors’ offensive excellence but took a swipe at his team’s lack of aggression.
“As far as toughness and the aggressiveness was concerned it was men against boys,” he said. “In every facet of the game it was men and boys. So (the Warriors) deserve a lot of credit.”
In the space of one week the Warriors have humbled both the Eastern Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers by 34 points (132-98) and the Spurs, who still have the second-best record in the league, 38-7, by 30.
In an oblique reference to the dismissal of Cleveland coach David Blatt a few days after his team’s loss to the Warriors, Popovich quipped that he felt fortunate to still have a job after Monday’s game.
“My opening comment here will be I’m just glad my general manager wasn’t in the locker room because it might have gotten me fired.”
In fact, Spurs GM R.C. Buford was in the team’s locker room after the game, but Popovich knows he has the highest degree of job security in all of pro sports, even if his team didn’t seem prepared for the intensity of a game he had called a test his team should relish.
“When you start out mentally with eight turnovers in the first quarter it tells you something,” Popovich said. “So maybe my game plan sucked. Maybe I didn’t have them ready mentally, whatever. Again, it was men and boys in almost every facet of the game.”
*Top image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.
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