By J.M. Poulard
The greatest heist ever arguably occurred in Ocean’s Eleven, when a group of elite criminals joined together to successfully rob a casino and walked out of the place undeterred as a result of wearing S.W.A.T. gear.
The second greatest heist, though?
The Golden State Warriors’ 113-111 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs seemingly had the game in hand midway through the third quarter until Zaza Pachulia contested a Kawhi Leonard baseline shot. Pachulia’s foot ended up exactly underneath Leonard’s left foot, which resulted in an injury that cost San Antonio to lose its best player for the remainder of the contest.
Prior to Kawhi exiting the game, the Spurs took the lead by pounding the boards, slowing the tempo and defending with perhaps the best discipline the Warriors had faced all season.
In truth, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich clearly studied Golden State…a lot. San Antonio switched on off-ball screens – in manner quite reminiscent of the Dubs – with terrific discipline and forced the Warriors into playing isolation basketball.
Gone was the beautiful cutting, screening and shooting, which was replaced by Kevin Durant one-on-one forays to the basket. To his credit, Durant delivered with great frequency, but it essentially iced out his teammates.
On offense, San Antonio repeatedly ventured into the paint via pick-and-roll drives and LaMarcus Aldridge post-ups. They relentlessly attacked Golden State’s defense and went into the half with a 62-42 lead.
The Warriors stormed out of halftime with great energy and a different strategy: attack Pau Gasol on every trip.
Folks, it got ugly.
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Watch here as Steph got rid of him with a pump fake:
Two trips later down the court, the Warriors ran a quick action at the top of the floor and Gasol never came out to contest Steph’s shot despite the fact Pau’s man is the one who set the screen:
Yikes! At some point, Gasol had to figure this out right?
Well, umm no. On this next play, Gasol failed to box out Pachulia well enough, and the Golden State center got the offensive rebound and then ran a hand-off play with Steph who got an open look:
Gasol eventually realized that Golden State was picking on him and decided to show on the next pick-and-roll, but he was too slow:
In the third quarter alone, Curry scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. His shooting helped close the gap and cut the 20-point halftime deficit down to nine going into the fourth.
It’s worth noting, Curry wasn’t the lone catalyst for Golden State’s comeback. With 7:53 left in the third, Kawhi checked out for good as a result of this play:
San Antonio was up 78-55, and things then took a turn for the worse as Golden State rallied and only trailed 90-81 at the start of the fourth period.
At this point, Golden State was not only playing with house money, it was also on the verge of taking the entire casino a la Ocean’s.
The Dubs had begun the turn up the defensive pressure in the third quarter, and San Antonio simply did not have the ball handlers to handle the increased ferocity by the home team.
Popovich countered by bringing in Manu Ginobili and Kyle Anderson, which helped for a bit, but their defensive shortcomings were eventually exposed.
Getting matched up with Kevin Durant will do that.
Leonard’s absence gave the Warriors free reign to utilize just about every offensive and defensive strategy they could think of without true fear of consequence.
With San Antonio downsizing in an effort to put more ball handlers to offset Leonard’s absence, Golden State pounded the road team for 10 second-half offensive rebounds. What’s more, the Dubs seemingly got every loose ball and played with more energy down the stretch.
On defense, the Warriors switched everything and dared the Spurs to attack them through post-ups and drives, but San Antonio simply could not do it with much consistent effectiveness.
It feels like we just got robbed of an epic series
— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) May 14, 2017
Fair or not, it’s only natural for Popovich and company to feel robbed. They were dominating Golden State at Oracle Arena and had an opportunity to put pressure on Curry’s squad by winning Game 1; but the Kawhi injury not only changed the contest, it may have put the series to bed in the event Leonard is limited moving forward.
With a few days in between Games 2&3, I doubt Kawhi plays in Tuesday… man needed help walking to the locker #Spurs … we'll see
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) May 14, 2017
With that said, the Warriors didn’t just steal this game from the Spurs, they outright took it from their hands and dared San Antonio to do something about it.
The Spurs blinked.
Golden State attacked the boards, attacked passing lanes and hunted down the shots they wanted while San Antonio basically had its feet stuck in cement.
Take a look at the biggest possession of the game:
Durant and Curry (two) both got open looks from downtown while several Spurs players basically got caught watching the game like fans.
Would the Spurs have won with a bit more hustle and discipline late?
But that’s the thing about getting robbed, if one doesn’t take all the necessary precautions to prevent it, the likelihood of it happening increases.
From the moment the Spurs lost Kawhi, they should have clamped down defensively and found a way to secure every 50-50 ball. Instead, San Antonio had a few lapses that Golden State capitalized on.
This current iteration of the Warriors might be one of the most unbeatable postseason teams ever, and they demonstrated that if provided with an opening, they will take everything from their opponents.
Let’s see if the Spurs still have some life in Game 2.
Injury note: Andre Iguodala sat out the second half of Game 1 with a knee injury, and is scheduled to get an MRI on his left knee, and could miss Game 2 according to the San Jose Mercury News’ Marcus Thompson II.