Down 25 points, the Warriors looked done. Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was on pace to be an exact copy of the regular season Game 1.
But then they turned to their very own Atlas, who put the team, the coaching staff, Oracle Arena and the whole world on his shoulders. Unlike the mythological titan who was condemned to hold the world up, Golden State Warriors titan Stephen Curry basked in the duty.
Curry picked apart the San Antonio Spurs bigs with pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll piling 40 points, with 26 coming after halftime, to lead the Warriors the brink of a 1-0 series deficit to a 113-111 victory. And his floater with nine seconds to go wrapped up the Warriors largest postseason comeback win in franchise history.
Curry said that he could sense his team’s lack of flow and knew he had to make plays:
“You have to be ready for those moments when they arise. You can’s shy away from it, and that was big tonight for us to get going. But we can’t do what we do without the collective on the court doing their jobs as well.”
After falling 20 points back to start the second half, the Warriors were searching for any kind of spark, and they found it when Kawhi Leonard went down with a rolled ankle not once but twice in a matter of mere minutes.
The MVP candidate limped off the court for good the second time, as he needed aid heading straight back to the locker room after coming down on Zaza Pachulia’s foot. The team promptly ruled its star out for the rest of the game.
Once he left the court, the Warriors went on an immediate 18-0 run to turn what had been a shellacking into a game.
Pachulia will undoubtedly questioned about the play, but it looked to just be bad luck for Leonard. Yes, Pachulia came underneath him a bit but it seemed like he was just trying to quickly close out on the Spurs star.
For his part Leonard said postgame that he didn’t feel the play was dirty.
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) May 14, 2017
Kevin Durant chimed in backing Pachulia as well:
“Zaza’s not a dirty player. I mean, you have to time that perfectly if you want to hurt somebody. We’re not that type of team. … He just tried to contest the shot, guys were playing hard and it was an unfortunate situation. You can’t listen to people on Twitter, they’re irrational.”
And it didn’t take away from the best game Pachulia had as a Warrior.
Not only did he put up nine points and 11 rebounds but he finished some tough layups and frustrated the Spurs drivers who chose to attack him on switches.
Acting head coach Mike Brown said that Pachulia earned that time on the court:
“I thought his energy, his toughness, his ability to pay attention to the details, was huge for us.”
His advocate, Kevin Durant joined Curry with 34 points of his own, and together they were just about the only things to go right on offense for the Warriors, who were out of sync from the very beginning.
It’d be easy to credit rust to the Warriors going down 20-plus points early in the first quarter. Sloppy turnovers and rough shooting was to be expected after having two of the last three weeks off. But it was more than that.
This was straight up throwing the ball to no one with no cuts or any sort of action. The Warriors committed 10 first half turnovers and almost all of them were unforced. Steve Kerr, who watched the game from the locker room, likely regretted showing up in person for this game immediately.
It was a tough first half to watch for Brown:
“I just prayed. [Laughs] No, we all stayed composed. We’ve been down, not only to these guys, but to other teams before. With the team that we have, the veteran guys, their composure and then the firepower, we know that we are always going to have a chance. So that makes it easy to stay calm.”
Draymond Green was the Warriors’ MVP in the first two rounds, but he was closer to being the Spurs MVP Sunday. He finished with three turnovers, five fouls and a technical. But he redeemed himself at the end with a timely three-point play. He was also far from the only Warriors player to struggle.
Klay Thompson continued his forgettable postseason as he scored just six points on 2-of-11 shooting. For the playoffs he’s averaging just 16 points on 40.7 percent shooting from the field, and in his last three games he’s a combined 2-of-10 from deep.
They weren’t just battling turnovers and poor shooting, they were battling lineups that could be described as questionable at best. In a game in which the Spurs played a traditional center or less than a minute the Warriors or more correctly Mike Brown, refused to go small.
The “Hamptons Five” lineup played a total of 15 seconds in the entire game, and after halftime Andre Iguodala didn’t get off the bench once. Brown said after the game that it was a sprained knee that kept him out, but it was a weird scene as at times he looked disinterested and distant on the bench. But he was active and yelling instructions to the team near midcourt for the final possession.
Ian Clark who had been so instrumental to the second units scoring also didn’t see the floor in the first half at all with Matt Barnes taking his minutes. Which made the lineup that lacks shooting and scoring have even less of both.
But all that can be pushed aside for now, though, the embarrassing way in which they started the game, the sloppy turnovers; the questionable rotations. Because it all added up to a 1-0 series advantage. And as surprising as that start was, you can bet there won’t be a similar situation in Game 2.
After a day off, the series will pick back up Tuesday, the start time will be a little earlier than the teams are used to though as the game tips at 6:00 p.m.
This is the first time JaVale McGee has appeared in a conference final series in his nine-year NBA career. He played a total of five minutes and finished with one point. … With the win, the Warriors now have won nine straight games to begin the playoffs, which is a franchise record. They’ve shattered the old record, which was six straight games. … With his seven 3-pointers, Curry passed Paul Pierce for seventh all-time in postseason threes. He has 280 in 66 career playoff games.