First one to two wins.
The Warriors evened the series up at two games apiece today after defeating the Spurs 97-87 in overtime in Game 4. San Antonio maintained a slim lead for most of the ballgame, but the Warriors slowly clawed their way back, outscoring the Spurs by eight points in the third and fourth quarters to send the game into the overtime for the second time this series. But unlike the collapse and eventual overtime loss in Game 1, the Warriors didn’t shrink this time in the extra period. They outscored the Spurs 13-3 in overtime, and just like that, we’re left with a best-of three series.
The way this thing was going in the first half, it seemed as if Golden State’s presence in these playoffs would not be for much longer. San Antonio tactfully forced the Warriors into a Spurs-style game, and it showed in the box score as the Warriors really struggled to get their shots to fall. But despite shooting only 30 percent from the floor, the Dubs headed into halftime trailing by only eight points. It wasn’t pretty, but it kept them in the game and gave the Warriors a shot at redeeming themselves in the most important second half of their collective playoff lives.
And when they got that shot, well, they didn’t miss.
Harrison Barnes, Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack combined to score 44 of the Warriors’ 60 second half and overtime points, as the threesome repeatedly found open looks down the stretch. Curry, who managed only six points in the first half on 2-of-3 shooting, gave the Dubs a shot in the arm with his second half play, and the team responded with considerably better ball movement on offense and heightened activity on the defensive end. Jarrett Jack made several clutch jumpers in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and provided the Warriors with a second playmaking guard. Additionally, he gave Mark Jackson the luxury of allowing Curry sporadic minutes of rest on the bench, which very well may have proved the difference in the final outcome.
But the real story tonight was Barnes. It wasn’t the most effective game of his career (although it was certainly the most voluminous), but it was far and away the most important. The Warriors’ 20-year old rookie was continuously called upon when the offense stalled, and he responded with his third double-double of these playoffs, including a career-high 26 points. Yes, by definition Barnes is still technically a rookie, but after today, that might be the last time we ever use that term to describe him. He, along with fellow rookies Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, are playing well beyond their years and consistently providing valuable contributions that the Warriors absolutely could not do without. All three of them had their own moments in this game, but it was Barnes who stole the show. Whether posting up, driving, or shooting from the perimeter, Barnes’ showed precisely why he can be such a deadly weapon on offense. The Spurs are forced to respect his driving ability due to his extreme athleticism, which means Barnes can get an open shot from the perimeter basically whenever he wants. The difference tonight was that he was making those shots, and the Spurs were unable to find an answer to the multitude of problems the Black Falcon poses. That certainly should be a scary thought for San Antonio, and will be something they’ll be sure to focus on in preparation for Game 5. The only scarier part? Well, he’s just going to keep getting better and better.
In addition to forcing the Warriors into tough shot after tough shot in the first half, the Spurs did a great job of getting the Warriors’ big men into early foul trouble. Carl Landry and Andrew Bogut, the Dubs’ starting frontcourt, had picked up their second and third personal fouls, respectively, halfway through the first quarter, and the Spurs used that advantage to pound the Warriors inside. It was an effective strategy that also opened up driving lanes for the Spurs’ slashers, as the Warriors struggled to secure defensive stops without further increasing their foul totals. But through a combination of substitutes and a rededication to physical (but not illegal) defense, the Warriors’ collection of big men managed to survive the first half without limiting their influence on the second. Bogut, in particular, was extremely vital down the stretch, as his 18 rebounds and staunch defense on Tim Duncan gave the Warriors the lift they needed to push them over the top. While the Warriors’ bigs will certainly need to work on staying out of early foul trouble if they’re going to win this series, it’s a great sign that they can overcome adversity, particularly when the team’s season was essentially on the line.
To go back to San Antonio down 3-1 after losing both games on their reputed home floor would have been devastating to the Warriors, but that’s all postulation at this point, because the Warriors took care of business when they absolutely needed to. The series has now been essentially reset after being evened up, and with each victory the young Warriors get, it starts to seem more and more plausible that this dream season may not be over just yet. The task ahead is still a daunting one, as the Warriors must win at least one more game in San Antonio, something they’ve only accomplished once in the last 31 games in the Spurs’ hometown, but suddenly that doesn’t seem as disheartening as it once did. The Warriors can look back at how they performed in the first two games of this series in which they led during 95 of the 106 combined minutes, and know that they are more than capable of pulling this thing out.
Two more wins. That’s what lies between the Warriors and the Western Conference Finals. What once seemed like an impossible long shot is now beginning to have a feel of, dare I say, destiny?
We’ve got a best-of-three series, folks. Throw all the prognostications out the window. It’s truly anyone’s game now.