The Spurs defeated the Warriors 109-91 in Game 5 on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semifinals series.
• Golden State bottled up. David Lee's injury and the Warriors' subsequent decision to go small brought an immediate, beautiful, anything-is-possible chaotic element to every game they played, at least until Tuesday.
For the first time this playoffs, Golden State's offense was legitimately contained, and their 91 points marked their lowest scoring output of the postseason. For the first time in a dogfight of a series in which two of the first four games went into overtime, Golden State was soundly, thoroughly beaten, their 18-point margin of defeat was Golden State's largest since April 11. By comparison, the Warriors' four previous losses in the postseason -- two to Denver, two to San Antonio -- came by a combined 21 points.
And for the first time during the playoffs, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were both shooting blanks in the same game. Prior to Game 5, the Splash Brothers' lowest combined scoring total was 29 points in a sloppy Game 6 closeout win against the Nuggets. On Tuesday, Curry and Thompson managed just 13 points combined, and just four combined in the second half.
Golden State has made huge comebacks, broken open tight games and instilled fear in opponents through their confident, can't-miss outside shooting; it just wasn't there in Game 5, as the Spurs' brought consistent attention to detail on defense, maintaining contact on the perimeter, denying when possible, closing out hard on jump-shooters and limiting the Warriors to just seven combined offensive rebounds. No open looks, no second-chance points and nothing much in transition is an excellent foundation for a successful defensive evening, and extra effort plays from Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard were just the icing on the cake.
"They're a potent team," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "If you float or relax, all of a sudden they get an eight or 10-point run. You have to stay on your toes in terms of staying tenacious."
The second-half momentum that Curry and Thompson have been able to conjure almost at will -- even in some of Golden State's postseason losses -- just wasn't there. This simply wasn't the Curry/Thompson that we've come to expect -- and that the Warriors need -- in the playoffs.
Curry/Thompson combined, 2013 playoffs, entering Tuesday: 41.8 points per game, 45.1 percent shooting, 42.5 percent three-point shooting
Curry/Thompson combined, Tuesday: 13 points, 27.3 percent shooting, 14.3 percent three-point shooting
"It was a long night for us," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "Give [the Spurs] credit, they played great. ... We're a no excuses basketball team. The Spurs outplayed us."
The absence of offense from Golden State's starting backcourt -- and the subsequent absence of energy that it created -- framed the series strongly in San Antonio's favor. Chaos is everything for the Warriors, who won't get this done relying on Jarrett Jack, who finished with 20 points off the bench, and Harrison Barnes, who scored a team-high 25 points (more below), even if those two are clicking on all cylinders. The repercussions of an off-night from Curry and Thompson are felt everywhere: the defense looks a step slower, Tony Parker appears in more control than usual, the Spurs' role players are able to settle in on offense without thinking about getting torched, and "B" level efforts from Tim Duncan (15 points and 11 rebounds) and Manu Ginobili (10 points on three-for-nine shooting) are more than enough.
"If we play like we played tonight, we might as well make preparations [for the offseason]," Jackson admitted, saying that both his starting guards "didn't play well" and noting that he didn't believe Golden State would play the same way in Game 6.
Popovich wasn't banking on a repeat showing, and he definitely didn't sound like a coach who believes the end of the series is as imminent as it felt during the second half.
"Nobody talks about getting this thing over with, like you've got a rash and you take a pill or put some cream on it and it will be gone," he said. "This is a war. They've got a class team."
• All Barnes, all the time. San Antonio gave up 44 points to Curry in Game 1 and 34 to Thompson in Game 2, but they've done a much better job of keeping the carnage under control since then, thanks in large part to the efforts of Green and Leonard.
"They're probably doing it for a good reason," Jack said of the extra attention San Antonio is paying Curry and Thompson. "Those guys are very, very deadly."
One result: Warriors rookie Harrison Barnes has seen his scoring opportunities and responsibilities drastically increase. After taking an astonishing 26 shots in Game 4, the All-Rookie First Team selection was back for more in Game 5, taking 18 shots. For context, Barnes had never took more than 17 shots during the regular season or the playoffs prior to Game 4.
You can see what both sides have in mind, and you can see that it strongly favors the Spurs. Jackson is looking to use Barnes' size, shooting ability and good technical skills to take advantage of mismatches with Parker, who is giving up serious height and bulk when they go head-to-head. He's also looking for offense -- any offense -- with both Curry and Andrew Bogut limited by injuries. Popovich, meanwhile, is simply looking to funnel Golden State's offense anywhere but Curry and Thompson and more than willing to let Barnes, who averaged 9.2 points per game this season, try to beat them with his offense.
San Antonio wins this on the math and within the context of the series. The math first: According to Synergy Sports, Barnes averaged just 0.74 points per possession (PPP) and shot just 34.7 percent in isolation this season, compared to 1.36 PPP off cuts, 1.01 PPP in spot-up situations and 1.22 PPP in transition. Barnes' athletic tools and smooth shooting stroke make him the ideal third scoring option in a pass-happy lineup, where he can move without the ball, settle in and take advantage of dead spots within an opponent's defensive framework, and finish above the rim in transition. Asking him to methodically back down any defender, even Parker, is asking him to do something outside his demonstrated skill set and well outside what the Warriors would consider good offense from a numbers perspective.
The pound-it-into-the-post approach noticeably slows the pace, too, and inhibits the ball movement that makes the Golden State attack so deadly. Barnes played well in Game 5, scoring 25 points on 18 shots and committing just one turnover, and this loss was clearly not his fault. But his game -- at least at this point in his young, promising career -- is not built to bear this type of burden under these circumstances. Credit Barnes' fearlessness and maturity, just don't expect him to deliver two straight must-wins in this manner.
• Curry's ankle. Curry tweaked his left ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and he didn't seem to move with total confidence and fluidity in Game 5.
He played 35 minutes, his fewest of the series, and sat out the final four minutes when Jackson uncharacteristically waved the white flag.
"It was just being smart," the Warriors coach said of his decision to end Curry's night with the Warriors down 18 points. "I didn't want to see him get hurt. Obviously he wasn't 100 percent."
Jackson clarified that Curry wasn't "injured" and told reporters that he expected both Curry and Bogut, who also tweaked his ankle and played just 20 minutes, would be available for Game 6 on Thursday in Oakland.
"We'll be fine," he said. "We're excited about Game 6. I believe those guys have a lot left in them."
Jackson always sounds confident, and this was no exception, but Game 5's action revealed plenty of cause for concern.