What? You didn’t think it was going to be easy, did you?
The Spurs took a 2-1 series lead tonight and stole home court advantage back from the Warriors after defeating Golden State 102-92 in Game 3. The Warriors remained close throughout the contest, but were never able to retake the lead after falling behind by nine points at halftime. Every time the Dubs went on a run, San Antonio responded with one of their own, as the Spurs showed once again exactly why they are...well, the Spurs.
Tony Parker must not have liked hearing about the Warriors’ prolific backcourt over the last couple days, and he made a point of reminding everyone that he’s no slouch himself. While Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson dominated the headlines in the first two games of the series, it was Parker who put on the dazzling display in Game 3. He thoroughly dominated the first half, scoring 25 points on an impressive 11-of-14 shooting. And while the Warriors adjusted in the second half and held Parker to only seven points, the first half surge proved just enough to keep the Warriors at bay.
Stephen Curry hit a three at 6:20 of the third quarter to tie the game at 65-65, but the Warriors never managed to take the lead. San Antonio responded with 11-straight points to put Golden State back in a double-digit hole, which they proved incapable of overcoming. The Warriors closed within five points with 1:40 left, but Tim Duncan hit a turnaround jumper, and the game was just plain math from that point on.
The story of the night was shooting, and let’s just say it didn’t go as you’d expect. The Warriors had their worst shooting performance of the postseason at .393 from the field, while San Antonio flipped the script on its’ head and posted their best shooting percentage of the playoffs thus far at .506. The magic shooting touch that has turned the Warriors offense into a lethal challenge just wasn’t there tonight, and that proved the difference in the final margin. Klay Thompson was limited to 17 points, while Stephen Curry was held to just 16, as neither of the Splash Brothers were able to get on an extended roll at any point throughout the game. It’s become pretty clear that when either of those guys are feeling it, the Warriors become awfully tough to handle. But when they’re not?...Well, this is what happens.
Give the Spurs credit. They made adjustments from the first two games of the series and limited the amount of good looks the Warriors’ shooters could find. They closed out on the perimeter and challenged shots at the rim, and just generally made the Warriors offense look out of sync. That’s a sight we’re not accustomed to in these playoffs, but that’s exactly what you should expect from a team full of future Hall-of-Famers and a coach that seems to know exactly the right buttons to push. While Parker carried San Antonio in the first half, Tim Duncan was steady once again with 23 points and 10 boards and did a good job of getting Andrew Bogut into foul trouble in the second half. Every time it seemed the Warriors might erase the deficit completely and run off with the lead and a 2-1 series advantage, Gregg Popovich dialed up the perfect play to steal the momentum right back. Consequently, it’s San Antonio with the 2-1 lead heading into Sunday’s pivotal Game 4.
And pivotal is exactly what it is. Although the Warriors finally got the 16-year monkey off their back by winning Game 2 in San Antonio, they would be putting themselves in quite the dire situation if they fall behind by two games and are forced to win three-straight in order to advance to the next round. That’s a tall task to ask of any team, particularly one going up against one of the most playoff-tested units in the history of the game. So in order to head back to San Antonio with the series tied, the Warriors are going to have to make their own adjustments, and the first should start with Parker.
The two teams essentially played even over the final three quarters, with San Antonio only outscoring the Warriors by one point over that span. The quick start the Spurs got off to in the first quarter proved the difference in the outcome, and much of that can be attributed to the Warriors inability to stop Parker. He scored 13 points in that first quarter on 6-of-8 shooting, as no matter where he was on the court, he was having his way with the Warriors’ defenders. Several of those makes came on jumpers as Parker was moving to his left, which is precisely how he likes to shoot it. He did manage a couple layups going to his right, but for the most part, he continued to rely on his go-to move. As the Warriors look ahead to Game 4 and the necessary adjustments they’ll need to make, forcing Parker to his right side should be at or near the top of the list. They can’t allow him to drive all the way to the hoop as he’s proven himself equally deadly at, but if they can find a way to make him go right but not allow him to go all the way to the rim, they’ll stand a much better chance at limiting his effectiveness. San Antonio’s roster is full of great players, and great players are just that because they know how to get their best shots. It’s an impossible task to shut Parker down completely, but after tonight, it’s obvious they have to do whatever they can to prevent him from being dominant.
All things considered, it’s not as if the Warriors played badly. They showed a lot of heart and perseverance by fighting back continuously throughout the game, when it would have been very easy to concede that it just wasn’t their night. That’s the kind of team character you need to be successful in the playoffs, and from what we’ve seen from the Warriors over this postseason as a whole, one would expect them to come out strong in Game 4, determined to tie this thing back up. But they can’t just expect that to happen. They have to force it. They have to get back to the doing all of the little things that have made them the surprise team of these playoffs, and they have to do it knowing the veteran Spurs are going to do everything they can to take the wind out of their sails.
It certainly won’t be easy, but then again, it’s not supposed to be.
After the Warriors proved themselves equal to the challenge over the first two games, the Spurs responded tonight, fittingly and forcefully.
Now it’s on to Game 4, when the Warriors get their chance to answer back.