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SAN ANTONIO — Now that the Spurs have cut the Warriors down to size and demonstrated that Stephen Curry can be made to look human, there is only one question left for the rest of the basketball world:
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What did it prove?
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No matter how the mammoth, bombastically-hyped matchup turned out on Saturday night, the two teams were guaranteed to make NBA history.
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Highlights: Spurs down Warriors
With 26 points and 13 rebounds, LaMarcus Aldridge leads the Spurs past the visiting Warriors, 87-79.
With the Warriors entering with a record of 62-6 and the Spurs at 58-10, the game featured the highest combined win percentage (88.2) ever.
Never had there been a game between teams more than 100 games (104) over-.500.This was a game carrying considerable weight, though Spurs contrarian coach Gregg Popovich typically expressed utter indifference about the matchup’s importance.
“Write whatever the hell you want,” Popovich said before tipoff. “Say I said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Yes, the Spurs clawed and carved out an 87-79 victory that just might be a glimpse of what we’ll see if the two teams meet up again as everyone expects in the Western Conference finals.
Starting lineups and in-game matchups that look like they may have been drawn out of a hat. Hall of Famer Tim Duncan sitting for all but eight minutes on the Spurs bench, jumping up and down as a cheerleader and often acting as another assistant coach. Curry and his Warriors backcourt partner Klay Thompson usually having so little room to breathe.
As masterpieces go, it ranked between the Sistine Chapel ceiling and something you might find stuck to the door of a refrigerator with a magnet.
As results go, it was precisely the kind of ugly, discordant scrum that the Spurs will want to stifle the harmony and creativity of Golden State.
“I told the guys I thought their execution and competitiveness defensively were outstanding and that’s something you can depend on night after night,” Popovich said. “You never know if you’re going to make shots or not, but if you can be consistent with your defense you’re in the ballgame. And I thought that this was one of our better…execution games in following what we were trying to do.”
The Spurs limited Curry to 4-for-18 shooting 鈥?1-9 on 3-point shots 鈥?and 14 points and Thompson to 7-20 鈥?1-7 on treys 鈥?and 15 points to hold the Warriors to their lowest scoring game of the season.
They did it, especially on Curry by keeping a man on him, switching often, closing his space to operate on the perimeter and forcing him to drive the ball to the basket. If it wasn’t Tony Parker or Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard or Patty Mills in his face, then it was the San Antonio bigs LaMarcus Aldridge and Boris Diaw stepping away from the basket to shut down Curry’s looks at the basket.
“All you can do is just be there,” Aldridge said.
Postgame: Aldridge on victory
LaMarcus Aldridge discusses the Spurs’ victory over the Warriors in their second matchup of the season.
The Warriors were playing without the injured Andre Iguodala, Festus Ezeli and Andrew Bogut. What’s more, this was their sixth game in the space of nine nights and the second of back-to-back set after playing Friday in Dallas.
When the Warriors won a 120-90 rout discount sports jerseys in their first meeting back on Jan. 25 in Oakland, Manu Ginobili had simply said they were better than the Spurs.
“I wouldn’t say that its even (now),” Ginobili said. “They have a better record. They are playing unbelievable basketball and they played yesterday. That’s an advantage (for us). They were also missing a few guys. Of course, we love the win. We enjoyed it. I thought we did a great job. But I don’t think it’s the type of team we’re gonna see if we happen to face them in the playoffs. We have got to be very humble because of the situation, the way they got here.”
The Warriors have gotten here by pushing the boundaries of the game to often make it less of a competition and more of a performance by them, by making the game smaller and faster and forcing opponents into difficult, if not impossible, matchups.
But when Golden State coach Steve Kerr went to a starting lineup that did not have a single player taller than 6-foot-8, Popovich turned the tables by sitting the all-time greatest player in franchise history and countering with the versatile and burly Diaw in the middle. Quite simply, the 39-year-old Duncan wasn’t going to be able to guard anybody.
“You make decisions all the time,” said Popovich. “You just try to do what you think’s best for the group. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be right or wrong every time, but you just make decisions based on what’s going on and what’s in front of you.”
“That’s what the Spurs are about,” Diaw said. “The culture here is everybody is selfless and unselfish. So for (Duncan), if he knows that the game plan is to win the game, he’s going to be on board with it.”
Diaw set the pace early by attacking the basket, shooting 6-for-7 for 14 points and eight rebounds. And the Spurs used the height advantage of the 6-11 Aldridge to punish the Warriors down on the low block.
One can envision a best-of-seven playoff series crammed with more planning and deep thinking than a chess match, enough switches and changes and hunches to make your head spin.
What it all means is that the Spurs kept their perfect record (35-0) at home and pushed the regular season winning streak over the Warriors up to 33 games, dating back to Valentine’s Day of 1997. It means the Spurs have closed the gap in the standings to three games in the race for the overall No. 1 seed in the playoffs. It means the Warriors’ bid to win 73 games and set a new NBA record for a single season got a little tougher.
But what did it prove?
Just that the best is yet to come.
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