Warriors, Spurs swap roles in series
OAKLAND, Calif. — The confident aura the Golden State Warriors are giving off right now might be the only thing brighter than those yellow shirts every home fan is expected to be wearing again for Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at ear-piercing Oracle Arena.
Maybe for good reason, too.
The Warriors have outshot, outrebounded and outhustled the Spurs through the first two games of their Western Conference semifinal. And if not for an unprecedented collapse in Game 1, Golden State would be returning to the Bay Area with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series instead of being tied.
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the hot-shooting Warriors have shown no signs of slowing down in the playoffs. The dynamic backcourt duo has left the second-seeded Spurs searching for answers. And while there’s still a long way to go in the series, sixth-seeded Golden State is no long acting like an underdog.
“We’re in the driver’s seat right now. We control our own destiny. I feel like this is our time,” Thompson said during a light shootaround at the team’s downtown Oakland headquarters Thursday. “We put in so much work and it’s paying off. And it’s just beginning. We’ve got to stay humble.”
At the moment, they’ve sure humbled San Antonio.
The Warriors have held the lead for 95 of 106 minutes, with most of the Spurs’ slim advantages coming in the two overtimes in Game 1, when San Antonio rallied from 16 points down in the final four minutes of regulation to a stunning victory. Golden State has outrebounded the Spurs 105 to 93, outshot them 48.3 percent to 41.7 percent and outworked – and perhaps outcoached – San Antonio in almost every way imaginable.
“We can’t blame it on just luck,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “They did a great job, and we did a really poor job. We’ve got to give them credit. They played much better than us, and miracles don’t happen that often. We didn’t deserve Game 1, either. We’ve got to do better over there, because playing like this, we don’t have a chance.”
San Antonio’s championship pedigree is about to really be tested.
As good as Golden State looked in San Antonio, it has been far better at home all season, especially in the playoffs. The Warriors went 3-0 at home in the first round against Denver, with Curry seemingly controlling the standing-room only crowds on his fingertips – and feeding off fans as well.
The Spurs were 0-2 at Golden State this season, though San Antonio rested most of its starters in one of them.
The next game at Oracle Arena – a raucous venue even when the Warriors were terrible – might be the franchise’s biggest game in Oakland since 1991, when Golden State returned home with its second-round series against the Lakers tied at a game apiece – only to lose three straight and be eliminated in Game 5 in Los Angeles.
In the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years, excitement in the basketball-starved Bay Area is at a fever pitch. The Warriors can unite fans with conflicting allegiances in a way almost no other team can in the sports saturated market.
Buses in San Francisco and Oakland have electronic banners that read: “Go Warriors.” San Francisco’s iconic Coit Tower has been lit with blue-and-gold lights, and fans on both sides of the bay can be seen wearing those yellow “We Are Warriors” shirts given out at home playoff games.
With a sea of support behind them, all the Warriors need to do is win their home games to advance to the conference finals for the first time since the 1975-76 season.
“The sky’s the limit for us right now,” said Thompson, who had a career-high 34 points and 14 rebounds in Golden State’s 100-91 win Wednesday night, even joking at practice that he “felt like Steph Curry out there” shooting 8 of 9 from 3-point range.
“Our confidence is at an all-time high,” Thompson added. “We’ve shown we can beat this team, and we just have to stay humble about it and keep working hard because it’s a long series.”
Golden State already has overcome two major hurdles.
The Warriors rebounded from what could have been a devastating Game 1 collapse. And they “exercised the demons,” as Curry put it, by winning in San Antonio for the first time since Feb. 14, 1997 – four months before the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan out of Wake Forest and began a run that includes four NBA titles.
Even Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a two-time NBA Coach of the Year, has marveled at what his veteran-laden team is up against. During one television timeout captured on the TNT broadcast in Game 2, he told his team in the huddle: “They got skill. They got talent. We’ve got to be on them.”
“They shot the heck out of it,” Popovich said at the airport before his Spurs boarded a flight to the Bay Area on Thursday. “That’s the difference.”