SAN ANTONIO — It’s not surprising the shorthanded San Antonio Spurs were able to roll the far-more shorthanded Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, 107-85, but this game felt like more like a formality than anything else.
Gregg Popovich’s group made quick work of the defending Western Conference champions, but the coach made his feelings clear, as he often does after matchups like these.
“It’s a win we’re going to accept and keep, but it wasn’t a fair fight,” he said. “They’re Golden State. Their top four or five players weren’t there, if anybody didn’t notice.
“We’re supposed to win a basketball game like that, and we focused and we did. We did our job, but it wasn’t a fair fight.”
It was an odd evening. The Spurs and Warriors, separated by a single game in the loss column Saturday morning were battling for the top spot in the conference later that night, but arguably the top seven players between the two sides did not play. A game of this magnitude doesn’t typically feature rosters chock-full of D-League players.
“Every game is an important game every time you step on the floor, but obviously we know the stakes at this point in the season, and you want to stay healthy and get healthy — for those who aren’t healthy,” Danny Green said. “We’re playing our best basketball (right now), but the last 24 hours we’ve been hit with a lot.”
Between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, the Spurs learned they’d be without Kawhi Leonard (NBA concussion protocol) and LaMarcus Aldridge (minor heart arrhythmia) indefinitely, per the team’s official statements. The Warriors were obviously hit with a potential landscape-changing injury last week, when Kevin Durant went down, and it’s been a rough go for Golden State ever since.
The extent of the Spurs’ stars’ current situation is unknown, and the team will find out more over the next few days concerning the Aldridge situation, but getting a win was a solid pick-me-up after what’s been a rough couple of days.
As the question was posed postgame, has this stretch — replete with a long road trip and smaller subsequent trips, coupled with serious injuries to the team’s two best players — been a bit of a mind(bleep)?
“That’s a good way to put it,” Green laughed. “I feel like the season in itself has always been like that. It’s always been a mind-twist. Guys are mentally drained and trying to stay focused and locked in, and physically also.
“But this part of the season is more mental than physical, to keep your mind in it and keep your body going — staying locked in and focused. But there are times where you get rough patches in the season and there are times you get some breaks, and this is a time where we’re actually at home, so we get some time to tune up some things and practice in our own facility. If we take care of our business we’ll have time to rest before playoffs.”
It’s an interesting change in the NBA storyline. Suddenly, even in the wake of a lot of bad news, the Spurs have crawled even in the loss column with the Warriors and would have the tiebreaker should the two teams finish the regular season with the same record. And still, what felt like such a huge game (and, really, was a huge game regardless), was a major letdown to fans of the league.
“I told you guys before the game that I genuinely feel bad for the fans who bought tickets and came to see Steph (Curry) or Klay (Thompson) or Draymond (Green), but I have to do what I have to do,” Steve Kerr said at the end of the evening. “Our team has been through the ringer the last couple of weeks.”
The NBA schedule, despite its improvements in terms of maximizing rest, remains a problem that needs solving. And while there were likely many disappointed fans throughout the arena, it’s safe to assume, even as the humble victor, the guy on the other end of the sideline appreciated Kerr’s thinking.
As always with Popovich, it’s about the process, not the result.
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