The Golden State Warriors staged an epic comeback to beat the San Antonio Spurs 113-111 after trailing by 20 points at halftime. The Warriors went on an 18-0 tear after Kawhi Leonard sat out of the game due to an ankle injury he sustained in the third quarter.
The hobbled squad could not hold on to the lead and fell victim to the largest conference finals comeback since 2002 when the Boston Celtics came back from a 26-point deficit to beat the New Jersey Nets.
Here are the five things we learned from Game 1:
KAWHI’S INJURY MADE THE DIFFERENCE
Leonard is the MVP of the team and the engine that drives the Spurs on both sides of the court. His scoring and facilitating are vital to the team’s success. His lockdown defence also gives San Antonio the luxury of assigning the “Claw” to cover the opposing team’s best player.
After Leonard landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot and hurt his ankle, the tide automatically turned for the Warriors. At that point the Spurs had a 78-55 point lead with 7:53 left in the third quarter, but the Warriors started to pour it on afterward. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant were unstoppable during the run and the Spurs could not weather the storm.
THE SPURS HAVE THE BETTER COACH
It was clear that from the outstart that the Warriors were being outplayed and outcoached. Gregg Popovich was thoroughly poking holes into the strategy of Mike Brown, who is filling in for head coach Steve Kerr. Popovich’s squad was swarming the Warriors on defence while scoring comfortably on the offensive end.
Brown did not make any effective adjustments during the first half as the Warriors continued to struggle. Coach Kerr was present in the locker room and was recorded at half-time pointing out what the team was lacking and what in-game tweaks they should implement. Despite Kerr’s pep talk during the half, the Warriors struggled to get back into the game up until Leonard’s injury.
CURRY AND DURANT LED THE CHARGE
Durant was determined to make a splash in the fourth and lead the stagnant Warriors on both ends of the floor. Durant scored 12 of his 34 points in the last quarter and was key in making stops on the defensive end. Curry exploded for 40 points and hit the game-tying three-pointer that put an exclamation mark on the Warriors comeback. Steph then sealed the game with his mid-range jumper that gave the Warriors a three-point lead with 9.5 seconds left on the clock. The Spurs had a chance to tie but LaMarcus Aldridge missed a 3-pointer from the left corner as the game clock trickled down.
PACHULIA DID NOT ATTEMPT TO INJURE LEONARD
After Kawhi rolled his ankle on Pachulia’s foot as he was attempting a jump shot, questions arose as to what Pachulia’s intentions were. The play was an example of the physical defence that sometimes ends in two players colliding. Pachulia was not able to give Kawhi enough space to land on his feet and it subsequently led to the injury. In his postgame interview, Leonard expressed that he did not feel the play was on purpose and that Pachulia was simply contesting his shot.
THE WARRIORS ARE IN A FIGHT
If Game 1 was any indication to how this series will continue then the Warriors should expect a tough and competitive best-of-seven against San Antonio. However, it very much hinges on how healthy Leonard is.
San Antonio has a system, Popovich is a master at adjusting and getting his squad ready for the battles ahead. If the Spurs are at full strength, the match-up has all the earmarks for a classic playoff battle in the Western Conference Finals.
Game 2 is Tuesday night at 04:00 (+1) UAE time.