1. Spurs Already Thinking Like The Enemy
Because by the end of this series, the Spurs became them.
The Spurs Grizzlified the Golden State Warriors. They got gritty and grinded. They took the points and the fun away. They dictated the outcome with defense, determined who would get the ball and where, kept the Warriors from producing so much as one 25-point quarter on their home floor in the Game 6 finale. In fact, the Warriors shot below 40 percent in each of the three games at Oracle Arena this series.
The Spurs' big names, the longest-running Big Three act in the NBA, gave something far less than a star-studded performance. Instead of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili leading the way it was Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and even Gary Neal who deserved the accolades.
The 94-82 final score was the lowest of the series, and the Spurs are fully aware it could easily go lower in the Western Conference finals.
"It's not going to be pretty," Tim Duncan said. "Sorry."
The Spurs are happy to get another shot at the NBA Finals after squandering a 2-0 lead to the Oklahoma City Thunder last year. It doesn't matter if the team that had gone with the flow and adapted to the faster-paced league had to reverse course and get back to winning games purely on defense. If the Indiana Pacers advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat, the Spurs would be the only member of the NBA's final four who did not finish among the top five in points allowed during the regular season.
Defense is "what we want to hang our hat on," Duncan insisted. "The league has changed. You want to be defensive, but the kind of high-octane, defensive teams that we have out there, we've got to score the ball. We have to change from series to series. We made some changes in this one. We found a way to slow them down a little bit."
This wasn't supposed to happen to Golden State. The upstart Warriors shot their way past the Denver Nuggets in the first round, then their young guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had 44- and 34-point displays in the first two games against the Spurs. Then the Spurs figured things out, with a re-sprained left ankle for Curry making matters even more difficult.
After the opener, Curry went four games without making double-digit field goals again until he tossed in 10 of 25 for a low-efficiency 22 points in Game 6. Thompson went two games without a made 3-pointer before making half of his four attempts Thursday night, but he missed six of his eight attempts inside the arc, some of which seemed rushed.
The Spurs dictated everything the Warriors did on offense. Instead of Curry casting 3-pointers off screens he was passing to big men, who seemed unsure of what to do with the ball. Thompson managed only one more made field goal than turnovers (4-3).
"They did a great job of corralling all pick and rolls, daring our bigs to make plays," Mark Jackson said.
The Spurs' offense also caused Jackson to go with a less potent starting lineup featuring Festus Ezeli in order to counter the Spurs' precision.
"They execute you to death," Jackson said. "They pick you apart. It was important for us to protect the paint."
Rookie Harrison Barnes had been flourishing while the others had the attention of the Spurs defenders, but his run came to a hard, rude end when he was upended while going for a rebound and smacked his face on the floor. He needed six stitches to close a cut above his right eye and still raced onto the court, subbing for Richard Jefferson just before the third quarter started. Even though he had passed a concussion test at halftime he began having headaches in the third quarter and had to come out for good.
Andrew Bogut's health and production diminished as the series ground on, and he had three points and seven rebounds in Game 6.
In contrast, the Spurs seemed to find more options the deeper this went. Splitter wasn't available in the opener as he was still recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered against the Lakers in the first round. He played in Game 2, regained his spot in the starting lineup in Game 3 and by Game 6 was utilized by Gregg Popovich ahead of Tim Duncan down the stretch.
"The last two games I felt better," Splitter said. "I could run better, I could guard better."
Splitter scored 14 points.
"I was rolling to the basket and they found me," he said.
Splitter was also found the after he rolled off a screen and followed Parker to the basket on a critical sequence. Parker missed his layup, but Splitter secured the rebound and with the second chance Ginobili found Parker in the corner for a 3-pointer that pushed the Spurs' lead from two to five with 3:35 remaining in the game.
It was only Parker's second basket; he wound up 3 for 16. That was still better than Ginobili, who shot 1 for 6. But they did combine for 19 assists, as the likes of Leonard (16 points) and Neal (eight points) gave the Spurs the offense they needed.
Now they get the opportunity they've craved, another chance to play for an NBA Finals berth.
"Everybody on the team, we all want to go one more time," Parker said. "It's been a long time since 2007."
He was referring to the last of San Antonio's four championship runs -- even if the manner in which the Spurs advanced was more reminiscent of the first, the 1999 team that was the lowest-scoring, best-defensive squad of the bunch.
2.Around The Association
MVP: While Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili struggled scoring and Tim Duncan rode the bench down the stretch, Kawhi Leonard hit big 3-pointerss en route to 16 points, defended the Warriors shooters and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
Defining moment: Tim Duncan is probably one of the 10 greatest players of all-time, finished seventh in MVP voting this season and was second team All-Defensive. And yet Gregg Popovich benched him for the last 4:28 of this game. And it worked.
X factor: Tiago Splitter. In his best game of the series, the Spurs' big man scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed four boards. More than that, Splitter was constantly in the way on defense and his ability to roll to the basket offensively spread the floor for San Antonio's shooters.
MVP: It's not a game that'll be propped up in his trophy case, but Carmelo Anthony's 28 points, including two big buckets in the fourth, plus some surprisingly feisty defense on David West equals the night's blue ribbon. Melo had gone scoreless in the final stanza in the previous two games.
X factor: After spending much of the series on the pine, Chris Copeland's long-range shooting played a huge part in pushing the Knicks' third-quarter advantage to double-digits. He poured in 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.
Defining moment: In the final two minutes, with the deficit a mere eight points, the Pacers' offensive possessions ended thusly: turnover, turnover, turnover, two missed free throws. George Hill's absence due to a concussion was a serious blow to Indiana all night long, but never more so than down the stretch.
3. Thursday's Best
Kawhi Leonard, Spurs:
With Tony Parker mired in a 3-for-16 shooting night and Tim Duncan sitting out the final minutes of the game, Leonard came up with seven points in the fourth quarter, including a huge 3-pointer to give the Spurs a five-point lead with two minutes remaining. He finished with 16 points and team-high 10 rebounds.
4. Thursday's Worst
Pacers' miscues Turnovers and missed free throws will lose you a game or two in the NBA, and that's exactly what happened to the Pacers in New York. With 19 turnovers and a 19-of-33 clip from the line, Indiana failed to close out the Knicks in an ugly Game 5.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"It's going to be a rough one. If you thought this was physical, it's going to turn up about 10 notches."
-- Tim Duncan, on the Spurs' Western Conference finals meeting with the Grizzlies.
8. Warriors Until The End
9. Stat Check
The Pacers consistently shot themselves in the foot in their 85-75 loss in Game 5 of their series against the Knicks, committing 19 turnovers and making only 19 of 33 free-throw attempts. In the past 15 years of NBA playoffs, only one other team lost a regulation-length game in which it committed that many turnovers and missed at least 14 foul shots. On April 21, 2007, Orlando dropped a 100-92 decision to the Pistons in which the Magic finished with 21 turnovers while shooting 18-of-36 from the line.
10. Dunk Of The Night