The Spurs rallied from a 16-point deficit with four minutes left in regulation Monday to stun the Warriors 129-127 on Manu Ginobili's last-second three-pointer in double overtime. San Antonio leads the second-round series 1-0.
• Manu Ginobili, redeemed. So many of the most gripping narratives in sports are tales of failure and redemption -- a hero's journey cast in the most empathetic and relatable light. Yet rare is the opportunity to see that atonement played out over the course of a single minute, as happened to be the case with Ginobili and an unforgettable pair of tide-turning three-point attempts that earned San Antonio its double-overtime victory.
The first was an unforgivable basketball sin, as Ginobili had the nerve to fire a long, contested three-point attempt without any warning or even the slightest patience. That miss with 11 seconds on the shot clock seemed to upend all that San Antonio had fought so hard to gain in the closing minutes of regulation -- during which the Spurs went on an 18-2 run in just four minutes. Ginobili missed with 44 seconds remaining in the second overtime period and the Spurs leading 126-123.
Soon after, the Warriors gathered a loose rebound, Stephen Curry slinked into the lane for a score and Tony Parker followed by missing an attempt near the rim. Golden State leveraged a loose rebound off Parker's miss to push the break, where Curry found a wide-open Kent Bazemore on the left wing -- a window that bore the full penalty for Ginobili's gall:
After all, that ill-conceived three wasn't a mere miscalculation on Ginobili's part, but an unmistakable blunder. One of the headiest players on the court let his desire to end the game get the better of him -- and by extension, very nearly let the Warriors get the better of the Spurs. Bazemore's unlikely go-ahead bucket could easily have been the final note in a thrilling game, ringing resonant in harmony with Manu's self-evident gaffe. Even though they weren't consecutive, the former could not exist without the latter; Golden State would not have been able to sneak ahead if not for the disarray caused by Ginobili's wayward logic, and in that single mistake a brilliant player sabotaged all that he and his teammates had worked so hard to build.
That is, until Ginobili went on to hit his subsequent three-point attempt with 1.2 seconds remaining -- a wide-open look offered up by the Warriors' sloppy defensive coverage. Simultaneous action on an out-of-bounds play sent two Golden State defenders (Jarrett Jack and Harrison Barnes) scrambling to stick with Parker while Bazemore had little choice but to honor Boris Diaw's dive down the middle of the paint. With those two threats accounted for, Ginobili went unchaperoned on the far side of the court, available to catch and shoot over Bazemore's delayed close-out. He who had failed was now salvaged, reconstructed by an unpredictable turn of an unbelievable game.
• An upset squandered and a comeback earned. Ginobili's final shot will stand as the enduring image of the evening, but the gravity of his game-winner disguises the fact that Golden State should never have allowed this game to slip into overtime in the first place. There's little excuse for a team of this caliber to surrender a 16-point lead in just four minutes, and none whatsoever considering how effectively the Warriors executed throughout the bulk of this game.
In the third quarter, Curry (44 points on 35 shots to go with 11 assists) crossed the line from tough cover to unguardable, elevating Golden State to ridiculous new heights. The driving lanes and open jumpers had been there for Golden State all night long, but the game opened up completely for the Warriors once the Spurs' desperation became palpable. They trapped Curry, cycled through several different defenders and switched as they could. Meanwhile, Curry lit up any defender unfortunate enough to check him and gracefully passed his way out of a series of difficult traps.
All was going so well for the visitors until the combination of Kawhi Leonard's length and some understandable fatigue (Curry played all 58 minutes) began to trigger Golden State's penchant for late-game struggles. Curry's shooting cooled, and as he faded to the background the Warriors fell adrift with Jarrett Jack's active over-dribbling. Jack merely operated in the same ball handling capacity through which he had proved valuable to Golden State all season, but in doing so dispatched the precedent for beautiful, well-run offense that gave the Warriors such incredible command over the game's first 44 minutes.
Golden State lost this game in plain view, but not in such a way that should deny San Antonio its necessary credit. Leonard wasn't merely a defender in the right place at the right time to witness Curry's fall back to earth, but the most consistent Spur throughout this entire game. He challenged Curry before the catch and smothered him after it, keeping Curry's explosive potential quelled while San Antonio's comeback was underway.
In those final minutes, Parker seemed to finally recall that he's allowed to attack the basket, and both Danny Green and Boris Diaw made huge, game-altering plays while Tim Duncan retreated to the locker room with the flu. Duncan had done his part to keep San Antonio relatively competitive throughout, but his departure oddly coincided with a return to Spurs normalcy.
Typically, it's by Duncan's scoring and playmaking that San Antonio's offense ticks like clockwork, and with his help that the Spurs string together stops upon stops. But San Antonio's latest achievement came by way of a make-do lineup that was likely smaller than Gregg Popovich would have liked, featuring a big man (Diaw) who hadn't played NBA basketball in almost a month. The Spurs' key scorers struggled (Parker and Ginobili shot a combined 16-for-46 from the field, good for 35 percent) and the lineups deviated from the norm. But through it all, Popovich's system endured, thus allowing the Spurs to continue pushing back long after they had every reason to concede.
• The matchup battle begins. Lineup construction should make for an interesting chess match of sorts between Mark Jackson and Popovich. Jackson seemingly had no qualms about piecing together five-man combinations without much regard for how the Spurs might exploit them. The Warriors went small with the defensively inept Carl Landry as a nominal center for nearly 10 minutes, according to NBA.com, most of which came without penalty. Jackson paired Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green without consequence as well, despite the fact that such a combination should stand as an obstruction to the Warriors' offensive flow. San Antonio simply failed to identify and attack mismatches, as they neither brought the offense to Duncan on the low block nor stretched out one of the Warriors' poorer combinations in order to pick it apart. Each team spent Game 1 attempting to find its own way, and for the vast majority of the game that left Jackson and the Warriors with the upper hand. There's certainly something to be said -- and a 1-0 advantage to be noted -- in the way that the Spurs finished, but San Antonio could stand to do a much better job of realizing the obvious advantages presented in Golden State's oddly small lineups.