SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs are the team with the 1-0 lead in the series and home-court advantage intact, the ones who verified every adage about the benefits of postseason experience through their comeback, double-overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors Monday night. So why were they the team with the most uneasiness Tuesday afternoon?
"Steph Curry," Tim Duncan said. "We've got to do a better job with him."
Curry is the Spurs' main defensive priority and he still shredded them for 44 points and 11 assists in Game 1. One of the best in-game coaches in the NBA needed 44 minutes to find a way to slow him down, though fatigue likely had as much to do with it. The strategy that worked best was Kawhi Leonard as the primary defender on Curry, jamming him early to induce him to drive, with teammates ready to leave their men and help out on Curry's initial move.
But Gregg Popovich doesn't profess to have any solutions yet.
"We'd like to figure out how to hold Curry below 40," Popovich said. "We've got about 10 phone calls out to people asking for suggestions. He's unbelievable. Unbelievable."
Meanwhile, the losing coach, Mark Jackson, sounded much more sure of his strategy and far from apologetic for any of his tactical decisions, including using Curry for 58 minutes.
"I'm not concerned about my team," Jackson said. "We're ready."
There's a defiance without arrogance to this coach and this Warriors team. They also understand the difference between doubt and disrespect, and they don't feel the need to channel Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech every time someone picks against them (which is basically every prognosticator in every series they play).
Jackson was asked on a couple of occasions which Game 1 choices he would change if he had another chance, and his answers had nothing to do with his decisions.
"You miss free throws, you don't value possessions, you throw away a possession offensively, you don't get back in transition, you don't pay attention to detail defensively, you give up a 3, you have breakdowns," Jackson said of what went wrong.
Those flaws can be summed up in one word: execution. And normally when coaches talk about execution it's code for "the coaches did our part, the players didn't come through." Except Jackson isn't selling out his players. He maintains confidence in them, praises their toughness, and uses the late-game errors as a way to point out his positive spin from Game 1.
"The facts are, we were the better basketball team for most of the ballgame [Monday] night," Jackson said.
He woudn't get an argument from San Antonio's Manu Ginobili.
"For a big part of the game they played better, more aggressively, more poise[d]," Ginobili said. "But we managed to win it. Now we've definitely got to improve for the next game."
There should be two automatic improvements: they won't be trying to work their way back into rhythm after an eight-day layoff in Game 2, and Duncan should be recovered from the illness that sent him to the bench and even the locker room during the second half of Game 1. And they might even have Tiago Splitter, who has been out with a sprained ankle since Game 3 of the first round but looked good while playing one-on-one when the media was allowed into the Spurs' gym after practice Tuesday.
There's one glaring change the Warriors need to make: finishing off games. (Jackson might want to borrow a page from Phil Jackson and splice Alec Baldwin's Always Be Closing speech from "Glengarry Glen Ross" into the game tapes.) None of the previous 392 teams with a 16-point lead in the final four minutes of the game had lost until the Warriors did it Monday night, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Coming on the heels of their near-choke in Game 6 of the first round, this is developing into the defining characteristic of this team.
"You play so well for three and a half quarters, you put yourself in position to get a win on the road against a great basketball team and you squander a lead and they hit big shots down the stretch to close that gap," Curry said. "It's a tough feeling. It is a concern that you have to learn from. You can't keep doing the same thing."
Not that thing. Everything else they want to maintain. Don't expect drastic adjustments. They want the ball in Curry's hands, which can lead to magical moments. They want Klay Thompson guarding Tony Parker, only next time avoiding foul trouble so he can keep guarding Parker. They want Andrew Bogut to play Duncan to a standstill for as long as possible.
The one thing they want to change is the feeling they let a playoff game get away.
"Yeah it's tough," Thompson said. "I'll probably think about it until gametime, until tipoff. The thing is, once that tipoff happens, it's a whole new ballgame. It's time for redemption."