Nobody would have been surprised if the Golden State Warriors dominated Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi Leonard was ruled out before the game with his ankle injury, and there appeared to be little hope for the Spurs despite playing in their own building.
While the Warriors did emerge with a 120-108 victory, this Game 3 was far more competitive than the previous contest. The Spurs actually led after one quarter and cut the lead to as little as three points in the second half.
This series will probably conclude on Monday night, but the Spurs put up a commendable fight after being shellacked in Game 2. While Kawhi might still return for that Game 4, Gregg Popovich is more likely to hold him out of that game than any other coach in the league. Regardless of whether or not the Spurs are swept in this series, the first half of Game 1 (especially with the context of San Antonio's Opening Night blowout win) will leave basketball fans wondering what might have been. As things stand now, the Warriors will soon begin preparing for their third straight NBA Finals appearance.
1. Jonathon Simmons, Warriors Killer
This game seems like a bad time to honor Jonathon Simmons. While he did score 14 points, it took him 17 shots to get there. He played his usual solid defense, but he was not as spectacular on that end as he is at the peak of his powers.
Nonetheless, Simmons deserves to be recognized for his incredible play against the team with the best record in the NBA. Simmons started the season with a fantastic game against the Warriors on Opening Night. He continued that with a great performance in Game 1 and followed that with an incredible effort Game 2. Simmons looked like the only person in a Spurs jersey that came to play, as he set a career high with 22 points and hounded Golden State on defense the entire night.
Although Kawhi's absence makes this distinction significantly less impressive, Jonathon Simmons has been the best player on the Spurs in these Western Conference Finals. The Spurs will do all they can to keep him around this offseason when he will receive a contract that could potentially creep into the low eight figures. Regardless of the final value of the deal, it will certainly be a far cry from when he had to pay $150 to go to a D-League tryout. Jonathon Simmons has shown up and impressed despite his team's struggles, and barring a massive overpay he will be worth every penny of his much-deserved long-term contract once free agency begins.
2. Defensive Woes
The most surprising element of this game was Golden State's abnormally poor defensive effort. Golden State gave up 33 points to the Spurs in the opening quarter. After claiming a double-digit lead early in the third quarter, they once again surrendered 33 points in the period and allowed the Spurs to close the gap to as little as three points after halftime.
The Warriors were ultimately able to put up enough points of their own to nullify San Antonio's offense. However, they should be very worried about giving up 88 points to a Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard. They should also be very worried about the fact that one of their better defensive big men allowed a 39-year-old to do this:
While the Warriors should not be unduly concerned about struggling defensively in the next game, the Warriors cannot defend this poorly against the Cavaliers, their (presumptive) Finals opponent. This one game may be an outlier--after all, Manu put up 21 points on just nine shots. However, the Spurs were effective on offense despite a relatively inefficient night from Jonathon Simmons and with LaMarcus Aldridge putting up 18 points on 17 shots. The Warriors were the second-best defense in basketball during the regular season for a reason. However, their lackadaisical effort on that end last night will cost them if it crops up again in their next series.
3. Kevin Durant with the Daggers
In some sense, Game 3 of Warriors-Spurs was quite similar to Game 3 of Warriors-Jazz. Both the Spurs and the Jazz held a halftime lead and kept the game close for most of the night despite ultimately losing by double digits. Both teams were missing their starting point guard, and both teams were defensive juggernauts during the regular season who did all that they could to put up a fight in their first game of the series in their own building.
Those two Game 3's were also similar in that Kevin Durant crushed the hopes and dreams of Golden State's opponent with a dominant performance. Durant scored 33 points in Game 3, including 19 in the third quarter. The Warriors saw their lead cut to three in the period, but Durant kept extending that margin as he scored against nearly every defensive look that the Spurs threw his way.
Kawhi Leonard clearly would have helped keep Durant from going off on the offensive end. That being said, Durant would have deferred more to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson if Leonard were covering him--especially since Curry and Thompson were far better in Game 3 against the Spurs than in Game 3 against the Jazz.
No team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the NBA playoffs, and the odds are heavily against the Spurs being the first. While Golden State might not be able to close out San Antonio on their home floor, they are all but assured of another berth in the NBA Finals. The Warriors continue to roll, and it will be fascinating to see if anyone can keep them from another title.