OAKLAND — When Gregg Popovich put on a show, calling Zaza Pachulia dangerous and barking at reporters for asking questions about what kind of impact losing Kawhi Leonard would have, the prevailing thought was his histrionics were intended to will his team past the Golden State Warriors.
After all, Popovich is a calculating guy, always working the angles to squeeze any advantage from a situation.
He should find a different angle before Game 3 in Texas this weekend.
“I’m disappointed,” Popovich said after the Warriors beatdown the Spurs, 136-100, on Tuesday.
It wasn’t because his team lost the rebound battle, turned the ball over or failed to execute. Popovich’s players failed to “believe,” as he put it, without their best player.
“[They were] probably feeling sorry for themselves — psychologically, subconsciously, whatever psycho-babble word you want to use,” the longtime Spurs coach explained.
Without Leonard — the best perimeter defender in the NBA — the Warriors offense was unstoppable, breaking the century mark with 2:34 remaining in the third quarter.
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant continued their you-can’t-stop-us routine to the tune of 45 combined points on 23 shots.
And Golden State’s defense was equally impressive. The Spurs managed 44 first-half points, which would be solid if the game was played in 2010 and the Dubs hadn’t scored 72 themselves.
San Antonio struggled to exploit any potential advantage in the contest at Oracle Arena.
Andre Iguodala was held out of the contest with left knee soreness, so Patrick McCaw played the best game of his rookie season. Zaza Pachulia was shut down after halftime due to a right heel contusion, so David West dismantled his former team with surgical precision. The game was so out of hand by the end that Damian Jones played seven minutes.
And like the two rounds prior, the Warriors had such an obscene amount of firepower relative to their opponent, they were able to play the long game and pace their veterans to keep them fresh for later in the playoffs.
Using Popovich’s strategy of resting players against him one round before the NBA Finals? That’s power.
“It’s like clockwork when you try to plug a guy in here or guy there,” acting head coach Mike Brown said, explaining McCaw’s impressive performance (18 points, 5 assists) in Iguodala’s stead.
Popovich said Leonard’s status for Game 3 is in question and will be for the days to come. If he’s unable to give it a go, it’s hard to imagine the Spurs giving the Warriors a real challenge — homecourt advantage or not.
The Warriors expect Leonard to be back after the long layoff.
“I don’t know how much it will carry over — Game 2 to Game 3 — going back to their place,” Curry said. “But for us mentally, we just know what we need to do to be successful against this team, even with Kawhi back in there, probably on Saturday, you’ve got to understand exactly the things that we did better tonight.”
What they did better, on this night, was everything.
And if Golden State makes quick work of San Antonio while resting their nicked-up supporting cast, the end of May could be more waiting game than NBA playoffs games. Since the Cleveland Cavaliers drew their preferred opponent in the Boston Celtics, they could be doing the same thing.
The league won’t start playing the championship-round games until June 1 regardless. So, if both the Dubs and Cavs enter the Finals 12-0, expect the league to actually act on infusing more parity.
Because losing the early-summer spotlight to Major League Baseball is not something commissioner Adam Silver would embrace.
— jacob c. palmer (@jacobc_palmer) May 17, 2017
“We’ll put it away. We’ll get a meal. Game 3, I expect to see a different team,” Popovich said.
And if he doesn’t, the Warriors will have that much more time to get healthy in their pursuit for redemption against the Cavs.
BONUS MIKE BROWN JOKE OF THE DAY
Contact Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.