Playoffs 2017: West Finals -- Warriors (1) vs. Spurs (2)
Reality bites: Golden State Warriors' depth, talent too much for injury-riddled San Antonio Spurs
Warriors pull away in second half, take 3-0 lead in Western Conference finals
SAN ANTONIO — It’s fun to believe.
But reality bites.
Eventually everybody tiptoes down the stairs one Christmas morning with the knowledge that the fat man in the red suit is part of a myth.
The Spurs officially had the white beard pulled off their fantasy in the third quarter Kevin Durant decided the game belonged to him.
However, it was over the moment that coach Gregg Popovich stepped forward at the morning shootaround and announced that Kawhi Leonard would not play in Game 3.
Or when Tony Parker crumbled to the floor with a torn left quadriceps tendon in Game 2 of the previous series against Houston. Or finally and indisputably, when David Lee had to be taken off the court in a wheelchair when he hit the deck before the end of the first quarter on Saturday night at the AT&T Center.
At the rate things are going, the star-crossed Spurs could run out of players before they run out of games, which likely will be on Monday night when the Warriors complete their sweep of the Western Conference finals.
“The fact is that it’s just too tough,” said the venerable Manu Ginobili.
Tough under any circumstances when you’re facing a Golden State team with four All-Stars and more weapons than an armory that has lost only one game in just over two months.
Virtually impossible when you have nothing with which to hit back.
Popovich had said all he wanted to see was some competitive belief from his Spurs after they sleepwalked through a 136-100 drumming in Game 2. So they fought and they scrapped and they battled in Game 3 and got a 120-108 sock in the eye for their effort.
“Couldn’t have asked any more from them competitiveness-wise,” Popovich said.
“It’s just tough to pile up injuries this time of year,” Pau Gasol said. “It is critical to have everyone healthy and we already have two key players missing. So I hope David Lee gets good news tomorrow.”
The Spurs have become the basketball version of the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” defiantly standing his ground when all of his limbs are severed in a sword fight.
“Tis but a scratch,” said the Knight. “It’s just a flesh wound.”
The Spurs play on because the NBA says you can’t just call it a season at some painful, broken point and go home.
Maybe Leonard, again an All-NBA First Team member and a finalist for the 2017 MVP award, could have tried to make it up and down the court with a badly sprained left ankle.
But Popovich was not putting his premier player into such a situation. For one, you can’t limp against the Warriors. For another, at 25, Leonard is the future of the Spurs franchise as they go forward and the coach takes the long view.
Popovich made a similar choice back in 2000 when a young Tim Duncan of the defending champs hurt his knee just before the playoffs. It was the type of injury where the medical staff said he could play without doing further damage. Duncan sat, the Spurs lost 3-1 to the Suns in the first round, but came back to win consecutive MVP awards in 2002 and 2003 and led the team to four more championships over a decade and a half.
“I think we do what every team tries to do,” Popovich said. “You take care of your players, you do what’s best, hopefully, in the short run and the long run, and it matches up. But sometimes you’ve got to make a tough decision. I think our philosophy helps some players extend their careers. But it doesn’t mean that the way we do it is the only way.”
Popovich’s way is to face reality head-on. He knew a huge feat in taking down the Warriors was already tougher without his point guard Parker. And when Leonard went down in the third quarter of the opener with the Spurs up by an improbable 23 points, the giant boulder they had to roll up the hill became enormous.
“For us to win, we have to play at a 10 level. And they have to play at a seven.”
– Manu Ginobili
Even the ageless marvel from Argentina, the soon-to-be-40-year-old Ginobili, virtually conceded the fruitlessness of it all. He turned back the clock, opened a vein and practically bled 21 points in the loss, then shook his head at the fix the Spurs are in.
“For us to win, we have to play at a 10 level,” Ginobili said. “And they have to play at a seven.”
The Warriors sink to a seven about as regularly as a leap year and, even then, there’s the embarrassment of riches that is Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson to take over and win a game with sheer individual brilliance.
What are the levers or strings left now for the Spurs to pull?
“Hope to be more attentive to details, less mistakes, less turnovers and hopefully more inspired offensively also,” said Ginobili. “Take better shots and don’t let them run. So it’s going to be really tough, really difficult.”
Still, belief and competitiveness can only go so far.
“You have to feel good about yourself,” Ginobili said. “Feel good about yourself, give everything you have and, if it’s enough, great. If it’s not, you shake their hands and wish them good luck and go home, hug your kids, wake up the following day and life goes on.”
That’s the reality that bites deep.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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