This needs to stop happening. For the second game in a row, the Warriors let a sizeable fourth quarter advantage slip away, and tonight it cost them dearly in their 129-127 double-overtime loss in San Antonio in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
After the Warriors played with fire and let a 18-point fourth-quarter lead nearly slip away in Thursday’s round-one series-clinching win against the Nuggets, the Warriors found themselves up by 16 points with four and a half minutes in tonight’s Game 1 showdown in San Antonio. What happened afterward was an absolute disaster. The Spurs rallied down the stretch of regulation, going on an 18-2 run to close out the fourth quarter.
Only this time, it wasn’t turnovers that doomed the Warriors. Instead, it became an inability to get quality looks on offense and an inability to get a stop on the defensive end. Over the last four and a half minutes of the fourth quarter, the Warriors went 1-for-9 from the field and 0-for-2 on their free throws. The Spurs, meanwhile, were 6-for-7 from the field and 4-for-4 on free throws during that stretch. Yes, the two Warriors turnovers turned into four points for the Spurs, but what really hurt the Warriors in that furious Spurs rally were open looks by the home team.
"At the end of the day, we played against a championship team that fought back and took the lead,” Head Coach Mark Jackson said after the game. “I thought at the end of Game 6 [against Denver] we made mistake after mistake after mistake. Tonight they made shots and we made some plays. I thought it was totally different."
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green each made 3-pointers during that game-changing run, the latter of which tied the game with 21 seconds left in regulation, and a Warriors fan can only wonder What if? What if the Warriors were able to close out on those 3-point attempts? What if one of those shots fell just off the mark? But most importantly, what if Klay Thompson didn’t foul out?
The Warriors’ best perimeter defender tallied his sixth and final foul with 3:57 left in regulation. Thompson’s length had bothered Tony Parker for the majority of the game, as the Spurs guard was just 4-for-14 from the field through the first three quarters. But with Thompson out of the game, the game immediately changed and Parker suddenly caught his rhythm. The perennial All-Star went 3-for-3 and had eight points in the fourth quarter after Thompson fouled out.
Yes, Ginobili’s game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds of double-overtime will be the “play of the game,” but the biggest difference maker in this one was the loss of Thompson. The second-year guard was a +14 on Monday, meaning that the Warriors out-scored the Spurs by 14 with Thompson on the floor. Whether he was checking Parker or Manu Ginobili, who finished 5-for-20 from the field, Thompson’s impact was obvious, and his defense will certainly be something to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the series.
“We made some dumb fouls, especially on my part,” Klay Thompson said. “What it comes down to isn’t our offense. We shot great. We made great plays. We just didn’t get stops down the stretch.”
While Thompson was getting it done on defense, the offense was sparked by none other than Stephen Curry. As has become the norm this postseason, Curry absolutely took over in the third quarter. He made just one of his first five shots of the game, but then erupted for 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-6 on 3-pointers, in the third quarter. In seven career playoff games, Curry is now 32-for-46 (.696) from the field and 17-for-26 (.654) on 3-pointers in the third frame. Monday’s third-quarter exploits fueled a Warriors run that saw them lead by as many as 18 points.
Curry certainly added to his growing playoff legend in this one. His 44 points and 11 assists provided as stunning of a stat line as you’ll see in the postseason, but the biggest number of them all might be 58, as in the number of minutes he played in this game (he played all but four seconds of the game). The Warriors needed Curry in this one more than ever, and he certainly responded, but one can’t help but wonder if he might have lost his legs a little bit in as the game extended to overtime and beyond. The budding superstar was 16-for-29 from the field and 6-for-12 on 3-pointers through the end of regulation, but he went just 2-for-6 and 0-for-2 from distance in the overtime periods. Six shots is a small sample size to go off of, and it certainly didn’t help that Leonard, San Antonio’s toughest defender, took the Curry assignment late in the game and he had ample help from teammates waiting for the double-team.
Curry, for his part, made the right play more often than not and found open teammates. You don’t just walk in to 11 assists, but he and his teammates will need to make the proper adjustments as the series moves on.
Speaking of moving on, that’s simply what the Warriors have to do. Yes, this Game 1 loss stings. It’s supposed to. The loss to the Nuggets in the first game of that series certainly hurt, and the Warriors bounced back in a major way. The goal for a lower-seeded team is always to steal one of its first two road games of a playoff series, and while they certainly missed out on a golden opportunity to get a win in Game 1, the Warriors still have a chance to achieve that goal when the series resumes on Wednesday.
"We went through the same thing during Game 1 with our series with Denver,” Stephen Curry said. “We know how to come back because we have been a resilient team all year. We just have to turn it back on and be ready to go for Game 2."
Being ready will be key. Whether it’s playing from behind or with the lead, the Warriors will need to be prepared for whatever situation they are faced with. And judging by how the team has responded thus far in the postseason, they will, indeed, be ready.