That the Golden State Warriors beat the Spurs in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday night was hardly a surprise.
Without question, the deck was heavily stacked in the Warriors’ favor. Golden State was at home and started the game with four All-Stars, while the Silver and Black trudged on the court without veteran point guard Tony Parker and All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard.
It’s how the Spurs failed to compete in the 136-100 loss that was startling and, yes, surprising.
In a nutshell, the Silver and Black looked like a team that didn’t believe it could win. And we’re talking from the opening tipoff, not when they trailed by 20. And believing is more than half the battle.
Energetic forward Jonathon Simmons was the only San Antonio player who answered the bell and showed aggression from the get-go.
To watch the Spurs in Game 2 was to see a team still feeling sorry for itself after blowing a 25-point lead in Sunday’s 113-111 loss in the series opener. Granted, the Silver and Black were up by 23 when Leonard left the game after reinjuring his sprained left ankle with 7:53 left in the third quarter. But they simply unraveled without him.
The Warriors went on an 18-0 run after Leonard’s exit to get back in the game, and pulled out the victory in the final minute. The point here is that the Spurs still could have won the game without their franchise player, but turnovers, poor defense and shoddy rebounding doomed them.
Considering how the Silver and Black looked early in Game 2, it was obvious that Sunday’s bitter defeat had a lingering effect on their psyche. They showed no fire, no intensity.
Where was the mental toughness? Where was the leadership?
Simmons, who has stepped up his game by leaps and bounds in the postseason, was the only Spur who played as though he believed the Spurs could win.
“Jon was one of the very few who came to play,” Popovich said. “I thought Jon was great at both ends of the floor. He was intense and he played to win.”
Simmons finished with a team-high 22 points and was aggressive at both ends of the court from the get-go.
“Jon was in a category by himself,” Popovich said. “Everybody else was in the other category.”
In other words, everybody else stunk.
If we know anything about Pop, it’s that win or lose, he’s always brutally honest with his players.
“I think, as group, they just let themselves down,” he said. “So, you know, we talked about it during the game, halftime, after the game, because I think the truth always sets you free. You can’t sugarcoat it or – if we had just made a couple shots, we could have been right there. That’s pretty lame.
“So, call it like it is, and we didn’t come to play. We felt sorry for ourselves. We need to get slapped and come back and play Game 3, and see who we are. That’s what I’m anxious for.”
With the Warriors up 2-0 in the series, the Spurs must find a way to win the next two games in San Antonio to make it a series. Game 3 is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the AT&T Center, with Game 4 tipping off at the same time Monday.
The Spurs lost Parker for the remainder of the postseason after he ruptured a left quadriceps tendon in Game 2 against Houston in the conference semifinals.
Leonard initially sprained his left ankle in the Spurs’ 110-107 win over the Rockets in Game 5. He missed the last half of the fourth quarter and all of the OT period, and did not play in the series-clinching 114-75 victory two nights later.
Leonard was on his way to another outstanding game in the series opener with Golden State before he aggravated his ankle injury twice in the third quarter. Leonard first tweaked it when he stepped on teammate David Lee’s foot on the sideline with 9:46 in the period, and then he went down when Zaza Pachulia undercut him while contesting Leonard’s 3-point shot from the corner.
A quick aside: In an ironic twist, Pachulia sustained a right heel contusion early Tuesday night and may not play in Game 3.
Although Leonard will have five days to rest his ankle before Game 3, his return is hardly a slam dunk. Popovich said before Tuesday’s game that he’d probably list Leonard as questionable.
And there’s this: If Leonard’s ankle is still tender on Friday, Popovich might shut him down for the rest of the series.
Nobody should be surprised if that happens.
Regardless, Game 3 will be a gut check for the Spurs. They need to take a cue from Simmons and play at full bore, no matter who is missing from the lineup.
Lastly, no critique of the Silver and Black’s poor performance in Game 2 would be complete without mentioning power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with only eight points on 4-of-11 shooting and four rebounds. He also had three turnovers.
With Leonard out, the Spurs needed Aldridge to step up as a scorer and rebounder, as he did in the clincher against the Rockets, when he finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes. Aldridge was at the top of his game offensively, making 16 of 26 shots and looking like the player who was a four-time All-Star with Portland before he signed with the Spurs in July 2015.
Where was that guy Tuesday night? Instead, he reverted to looking passive and tentative. Talk about a contrast.
“LaMarcus has got to score for us,” Popovich said Tuesday night. “He can’t be timid. He turned down shots in the first quarter. He can’t do it. He’s got to score. Scoring’s got to come from someplace.
“I think he’s got a major responsibility in Game 3 to come out and to get something done, whether it’s for himself or teammates. If they (defenders) come after him, that kind of thing, to find somebody and not turn it over, to get us good shots and take shots when they’re open.”