SAN ANTONIO — Sports can be so simple.
For the San Antonio Spurs, fixing what ailed them in Game 2 — that they didn’t “believe” in themselves — wasn’t going to be enough to compete with the Golden State Warriors. Not if they’re playing without Kawhi Leonard, who was held out of the contest by coach Gregg Popovich.
“You just make a decision and you move on,” Pop said before the Warriors pushed the Spurs to the brink of elimination with a 120-108 win.
By holding Leonard out, the decision was clear: It’s time to punt this series and think long-term, because these Spurs aren’t beating the Warriors.
Not in a best-of-seven series — especially not if it requires digging out of a 3-0 hole.
Game 3 wasn’t an embarrassment like Game 2. The Spurs showed up to play on Saturday night at the AT&T Center, but after a strong start to the game — including a six-point lead in the first quarter — San Antonio lacked the firepower to keep it close.
“Every time you look up, you’re playing against four all-stars, so you better be pretty perfect,” a resigned Popovich said after the game. “… That’s a hell of a team.”
The immortal Manu Ginobili (21 points on nine shots) carried the Spurs with little assistance. That’s not enough when there’s no one on the floor to slow down Kevin Durant.
Durant finished with an efficient 33 points while grabbing 10 rebounds, doing most of his damage in the third, when the Warriors showed they weren’t going to loosen their grip on their double-digit advantage. That was made easier by an 16-0 run by Durant himself.
KD burning an opponent is fine, almost expected at least once in a series. But what’s more damning for the Spurs and their complete inability to make this a competitive Western Conference Finals is that the Warriors were legitimately bad in several key areas of the game on Saturday.
They were sloppier with the ball than they’ve ever been with Mike Brown as the acting head coach. They lost the rebounding battle, allowing the Spurs to grab 15 offensive rebounds.
Saturday’s was the second-straight game in which the Warriors allowed a playoffs-high number of boards on the offensive glass, and it was the second time in the last three games they committed 19 or more turnovers.
None of those three games were in danger for Golden State since Leonard was injured in the third quarter of Game 1.
Those miscues haven’t mattered in the grand scheme.
And a piece of Popovich’s philosophy that Brown revealed before the game informs us why. When the Dubs coach was a Spurs assistant after the 2000-01 season, Pop allowed Brown in on a secret of NBA team building.
“I’ll never forget, Pop said, and this was a while ago: ‘In today’s game, you need three quote-unquote superstars or perennial all stars to win in the playoffs,’ Brown recalled.
“I believe he said that because of him feeling if somebody goes down or if somebody has a bad stretch of three or four games, you need two other guys to carry the load.”
The Spurs, right now, meet all the requirements of that theoretical team Popovich believed wouldn’t seriously compete for a championship. They had a crucial guy go down. They have somebody struggling through a stretch of bad games (LaMarcus Aldridge), and they don’t have the extra impact players to carry the load.
Durant didn’t believe the report when he heard Popovich was preventing Leonard from playing.
“In those situations, you can never believe what Pop says,” Durant said. “Mentally, he’s always a step ahead of everybody.”
That’s true. He’s so far ahead of the situation, he’s already looking to next season.
Kevin Durant doesn’t care if these conference finals aren’t entertaining
Durant’s full comments on NBA fans not enjoying the conference finals: pic.twitter.com/YikZd4cz94
— jacob c. palmer (@jacobc_palmer) May 21, 2017
Contact Jacob C. Palmer at email@example.com or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.