History continues to catch up to the Spurs in the final month of the regular season.
One game after Tim Duncan became just the third player in NBA history to log 1,000 regular season wins for his career, the Spurs and Warriors met at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Thursday in the first game in NBA history between two teams with at least 65 wins apiece.
Fittingly, Gregg Popovich played no mind games with his lineup, opening with his usual five starters and using the player rotation he likely will employ when the playoffs begin next weekend.
It didn’t matter. Golden State scored its second win of the season over the Spurs, a 112-101 victory that had significant weight. Not only did it make the Warriors the second team in league history to win at least 70 games, but it locked the Spurs out of any possibility of leapfrogging them for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Warriors retain the possibility of a 73-win season that would give them the best record in NBA history but they must win their three remaining games, including a Sunday rematch with the Spurs in San Antonio.
The Spurs came into Tuesday’s game with the No. 1-rated defense in the league but the Warriors shredded it in the final three periods. After making only 9-of-24 shots in the first quarter the Warriors made 36-of-59 in the final three, 61 percent. Reigning Most Valuable Player and NBA scoring leader Stephen Curry made 11-of-19 shots and scored 27 points. He got plenty of help from Harrison Barnes (8-for-13, 21 points) and Draymond Green (7-for-12, 18 points).
““It’s always difficult.,” Popovich said of defending against the NBA’s most prolific scoring team. “They are a very unselfish team. (Harrison) Barnes had a great game tonight to go along with it. It was a team effort. They were wonderful, it was fun to watch.”
Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed 11-of-16 shots, suffered a dislocated pinky finger on his right (shooting) hand in the first period and played with the injured finger taped to his right ring finger in the final three quarters.
“Still hurts right now but I’ll be OK,” Aldridge told reporters after the game. ” I’ve just got to ice it and just take care of it. It freaked me out, I never had it happen to me before. I looked down and it was going the other direction so it definitely caught me off guard and kind of threw me off tonight. They popped it in and then I went back in real quick and as soon as I touched the ball it went back out so that’s why I was on the side for a while.
“Yeah it didn’t feel right the whole night. Every time I shot it just didn’t feel natural out there so I was just trying to play through it.”
The Spurs also were without Boris Diaw, a key player in their March 19 win over the Warriors. The veteran power forward has missed the last two games because of a strained adductor muscle.
The decision by Popovich to play the game straight-up, resting none of his healthy regulars, had nothing to do with wanting to halt the Warriors’ chase after their own piece of league history: A chance to surpass the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls all-time best record, 72-10. Rather, it was all about having his players properly rested and in rhythm when the playoffs begin next weekend.
“We want to have that rest, we’re an older team,” Popovich told reporters before tipoff. “But at the same time, sure, we worry about deconditioning and rhythm just like everybody talks about. You need to play a couple games in a row, you can’t just sit them, play, sit them, play, sit them, play. That’s too disjointed. So that’s why we played everyone at Utah, we play everybody tonight, to get two games in a row, rhythm.
“Tomorrow, you and I might play. And when Golden State comes back to us, we’ll play that game full also because we’re going to sit everybody in Denver. We don’t want to sit them two nights in a row going into playoffs, that doesn’t make much sense. That’s how it came about. No matter who we’re playing tomorrow we’d sit them, doesn’t matter. So the opponent’s not the thing, it’s about minutes and time, age, all that stuff.”
*Top Image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.