By Ben Golliver
The Spurs defeated the Warriors 95-88 at the AT&T Center on Friday night to win their third straight game, improving to 31-11 on the season and 18-2 at home. The Warriors fell to 23-15.
• This was a gallant effort on the road by the Warriors, who were without starting point guard and All-Star candidate Stephen Curry and who were attempting to regroup quickly after getting thumped by 17 points by the Heat on Wednesday. If Curry's absence for the second straight game due to an ankle injury wasn't bad enough, forward David Lee, who will very likely be selected as an All-Star reserve next week, badly rolled his ankle during this one. Lee tried to sprint away the pain and remained in the game when many players would have called it a night; he finished with a team-high 22 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
The Spurs machine cares not for your heroism or high pain tolerance. This wasn't an A-level performance by San Antonio, who hit just five-for-22 from deep and got just 14 combined points from its bench in 78 combined minutes, but they took firm control of a tight game late in the fourth. Golden State, ranked No. 11 in defensive efficiency this season after ranking 26th last season, was reminded that it only takes one blown assignment against the Spurs to swing a game. On a night when Tim Duncan (24 points and 10 rebounds) and Tiago Splitter (19 points and nine rebounds) did most of the damage offensively, the Spurs' knockout blow came from the perimeter.
With 90 seconds remaining and San Antonio holding a four-point lead, Tony Parker drove into the paint, using a high screen from Duncan, and collapsed the Warriors' defense. One of the players tending to him was second-year wing Klay Thompson, who left Danny Green open in the right corner so that he could cut off a potential Parker to the hoop and contest a pull-up jumper once the attack was thwarted. Unfortunately for Thompson, Parker read the action, opting against a tough shot in midair and instead passing out to his wide open teammate. Green, who has taken more three-point attempts from the right corner than any other position around the arc this season and made 39.7 percent of them, buried the wide open look to give San Antonio a seven-point lead and crushed any hope Golden State had of extending the game to the final moments. Parker finished with a game-high 25 points and eight assists, and his late dish proved, for the umpteenth time, that the Spurs' third and fourth reads on a given play will almost always be efficient, prepared and ready to deliver.
• Jarrett Jack has been an on-again, off-again starting point guard since being selected in the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft. The Warriors are his fifth team since 2008 and the Warriors did quite well to trade for him over the summer. Their interest was surely peaked by a strong 2011-12 season for the terrible Hornets, where he averaged career-highs in points (15.6 points), assists (6.3) and rebounds (3.9) in the aftermath of the Chris Paul trade.
Adding a veteran player who put up big numbers on a bad team (the Hornets were 21-45 in the lockout-shortened season) can be one of the riskiest moves for a team anxious to get over the hump and into the playoff picture, like the Warriors were this summer. That's especially true when asking a veteran player to accept a reserve role after playing a career-high 34.0 minutes as a starter in his previous stop. Jack has always been regarded as a team-first pro, though, which surely erased any concerned Golden State might have harbored about his willingness to sacrifice. Regardless, Golden State was in need of a back-up who was good enough to serve as a stand-in starter if Curry, who has missed long stretches with ankle issues during the last two seasons, went down again.
The Warriors' addition of Jack, averaging 11.9 points and 5.1 assists in 27.8 minutes off the bench this season, looks like a brilliant, underrated move at the moment. With Curry sidelined, Jack has stepped in as expected for coach Mark Jackson, finishing with 20 points and 10 assists against just one turnover in 43 minutes versus the Spurs. The highlight of his night was a coast-to-coast jaunt to close the third quarter that left the Spurs looking like they had been struck by lightning. Once Curry returns, Jack simply goes back to being a tested, opportunistic third guard who will likely play big minutes in the playoffs. Even better: the positive start in Golden State could convince him to lock in with Curry, Thompson and rookie Harrison Barnes as a very good perimeter unit for years to come.
• A bizarre scene delayed this game at halftime when second half warm-ups were halted because the rim the Warriors shooting on was bent and needed to be replaced. Here's a brief video of the unusual scene.
The rim, which the Warriors shot on during the first half and which the Spurs would have shot on during the second half, was deemed to be tilted so that it wasn't parallel to the ground. The basket standard was lowered to the ground so that workers could replace the entire rim before play continued. The delay lasted even longer because the two teams were instructed to go through another warm-up period after the first one had been interrupted.
A television replay indicated that Warriors forward Carl Landry might have done the damage by holding onto the rim for an extended period of time during a dead ball just before the midway point of the second quarter. From that point to the end of the first half, the Warriors shot 6-for-9 from the field, well above what they shot for the game. For what it's worth, the Warriors shot 42.3 percent in the first quarter and 42.1 percent in the second quarter; in the second half, on the other basket, the Warriors shot 47.6 percent in the third quarter and 38.9 percent in the fourth. Overall, their first half shooting (42.2 percent) was virtually identical to their second half shooting (43.6 percent). Given how well they shot during the second-quarter stretch in question and their consistent through the first three quarters, there doesn't seem to be any case for claiming the bent rim negatively impacted the Warriors' ability to win the game, which is excellent news.
With that out of the way, we can turn our attention to the basketball ethical dilemma at play. Let's say you're the coach or player who discovers the bent rim and the referees haven't yet noticed it. If your opponent is going to be shooting on that basket, do you do the right thing and report it immediately? Do you go through the thought process of determining whether it is bent in such a way that's an advantage or a disadvantage? Do you check the stats to see if you shot better or worse on the bent rim to determine whether you should report it? Going even deeper, do you wait until the very end of the halftime period to report the bent rim to allow your players extra rest? Do you tell your players ahead of time so they know what's happening before you spring it on the opposition as a psych-out maneuver? Isn't this a situation where the dueling concepts of "winning fair and square" and "doing whatever it takes to win" collide head on?