OAKLAND – The buildup to Monday’s Spurs-Warriors game at Oracle Arena was undeniable, the effect palpable. It really felt like a playoff game and that should be a worry for the Spurs and their fans.
Gregg Popovich believed his players felt the urgency of the moment. They didn’t want to have their fannies handed to them, he said.
No, really. He said “fannies.”
But Popovich miscalculated. The Spurs allowed the Warriors to hand them their fannies, start to finish, in the 120-90 blowout that ranked as the team’s worst loss in nearly four years.
It wasn’t just the statistical separation that was stark. Some of the Spurs looked, well, frightened.
Popovich explained this in the most demeaning of terms: “Men against boys.”
As the Warriors built on their lead Monday the Spurs coach shuffled his lineup looking for someone – anyone – who would play with some attitude. He got competitiveness from tough-as-nails David West, who started in Tim Duncan’s spot because the Spurs captain had returned to San Antonio to take a load off his sore right knee. And he got some aggression from rookie Jonathan Simmons, who always plays as if anything else might land him back in the D-League.
Popovich called Simmons’ aggression “uncommon” among those in silver and black.
Those of us who report on the Spurs know where to go for the most honest appraisal of any situation, good, bad or indifferent: Manu Ginobili never spares sensibilities.
“At this point, they are better than us,” he said. “I’m not embarrassed to face it. They wanted it more. They were playing at home. They were fired up and we couldn’t get anything going.
“It’s a great team. We’re not discovering anything. They won 67 games and won a championship (last season). They are 41-4. They have the whole package.”
The harsh reality of Monday’s outcome is daunting for the whole league, not just a Spurs team that retains the second-best record in the NBA, 38-7, by a wide margin over No. 3.
The Warriors truly might be the best team in NBA history, better than Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Bulls, who went 72-10 and rolled easily to the fourth of Jordan’s six championships.
Based on what they have done over the past week the evidence is powerful: A 34-point win over the Cavaliers, the best team in the East; a 31-point win over the Bulls, No. 4 in the East; and the 30-point win over the Spurs.
Golden State’s Stephen Curry is the new Jordan, an unstoppable offensive player who changes the dynamics of every moment he is on the court. He made a mockery of any suggestion Kawhi Leonard might be this season’s Most Valuable Player. Matching up the reigning Defensive Player of the Year against him made no difference on Monday and Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who won two championship rings playing for Popovich and three more playing with Jordan, knows the reason why:
“He has ridiculous shooting range and it distorts the whole chessboard,” Kerr said.
Like the queen on the chessboard, Curry is able to move in any direction with deadly force.
Pawns in Monday’s game, the Spurs took tiny consolation in having seen the complete Curry package, an experience they hope will have them better prepared for three more regular season matchups with the Warriors and perhaps a date with them in the Western Conference Finals.
“You have to be so careful not even giving him one step,” Ginobili said. “That makes you change your strategy. I think we learned today. It’s going to help us. It was the 45th game of the season. We didn’t get eliminated today. We got our butts kicked, that’s for sure, but we’ll learn.”
Maybe the Spurs needed a humbling loss after winning 13 in a row and 20 of their previous 21 games. The Warriors responded to their worst loss of the season, a 113-95 humbling in Detroit on Jan. 16, with their back-to-back-to-back drubbings of the Cavaliers, Bulls and Spurs.
“I think that loss was just what we needed to wake us up,” Kerr said. “We’ve had a really good stretch since then.”
*Top image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.