Look, I’m not lecturing you on how to experience this crushing Game 1 loss. If you want to rail against Mark Jackson in the wake of disappointment, fine. That’s your process, and it’s probably no better than my own.
But, if you want something that analyzes the collapse without jumping to conclusions on how Jackson is “overmatched” or how he’s merely “good at motivation,” this isn’t the article for you. When something goes wrong, the first instinct is to blame. Since the coach theoretically can influence anything and everything, the blame often lands there. And Jackson isn’t blameless in this. It’s just that, I wouldn’t say the Warriors lost their heads or stopped running offense. The reality is a bit more complicated, and it’s probably a reality we wouldn’t care about had a bunch of unlucky events not piled on top of one another.
Let me unload my Jackson fourth quarter criticisms from the jump, to be clear. Curry needed a rest and Bogut needed to come in. To explain rather than excuse, Jackson sat Curry for a stretch against Denver in Game 6, and it contributed to a similar collapse. While I disagree with his not sitting Curry in Game 1, I understand why Jackson left him in, hoping to seal it up. As for Bogut…I never know what’s going on with Bogut. When is he healthy? When is he ailing? Did he injure his hand? When has he just had a pain shot in his ankle? Lacking that information, I usually steer clear of retroactively demanding that Jackson throw him in there.
As I see it, the 4th quarter collapse had three main Golden State components, divorced from San Antonio’s admirably well-run offense and defense down the stretch. Only the first one is connected to Jackson’s mistake in not resting Stephen Curry.
Tired, Ineffective Iso Curry
The Warriors got into isolation mode, and not necessarily because they intended to. Curry stalled out possessions, in part, because he appeared too tired to do anything else with them. Haggard-looking Steph just wasn’t opening up too many opportunities by waddling around Draymond Green’s screens and the offense gummed up as he dribbled in place.
The Warriors are a bit adrift in this odd situation where Jack and Curry share the floor, but Klay Thompson’s fouled out. Golden State likes to have Jack handle as Curry and Thompson prod the defense from different directions off the ball. Lacking Klay, but needing Jack, the Warriors were at sea. Curry was so slow on pick and roll that San Antonio easily loaded up to corral him, leading to ugly isolations. The 1:24 possession where Curry dribbled until launching a contested shot (blocked by Diaw) comes to mind. As an aside, the loss of Klay Thompson really hurt Golden State’s defense and sprung Tony Parker for easy baskets.
Diaw was huge (no jokes, please) for the Spurs during this stretch. Some of the iso-happy play occurred because Warriors guards thought they could take him. Turns out that getting around Diaw (no jokes, please) is really difficult in crunch time (no jokes, please).
Steph could have also stood to make better decisions. On the final play of regulation, Kent Bazemore was wide open. That was the look Curry should have hit, instead of trying to wrest a one-hander over two defenders. The good sign? Curry learned his lesson later on in the 2nd OT, hitting Bazemore for what would have been the game winner had it not been for Manu’s deep splash.
Jarrett Jack was Awful
Jarrett Jack attached his imprint to three devastating Spurs three-pointers.
1:40: Jarrett Jack falls asleep on the switch, gives up a wide open Kawhi Leonard three. Leonard drains it, cutting the lead to 5.
0:20: Stephen Curry is guarding Danny Green, who’s setting a screen for Jack’s guy, Kawhi Leonard. Curry motions and yells for Jack to switch onto Green, as Curry takes Leonard. Jack either doesn’t hear or ignores Curry, resulting in the game-tying three from Green. This also sets up another Jack lapse later.
0:03 (2nd OT): We’re mostly discussing the regulation collapse, but the final San Antonio possession bears a mention. The Spurs have 3 seconds and they’re down by 2. On the inbounds, Jarrett Jack incorrectly assumes that Harrison Barnes has been screened, and commences a switch that Barnes has not called for. This puts Jack in no man’s land, and forces Kent Bazemore to cover Jack’s man, leaving Manu Ginobili open. Spurs win.
All of that is bad enough and we haven’t even considered Jarrett Jack’s missed isolation jumpers, and huge, befuddling play where he simply threw the ball away at 2:48 in regulation, fueling a Spurs fastbreak. What a maddening game from Jack.
Luck and the Whistle
Let’s have a brief, rational conversation about the refs. They certainly did not help the Warriors in that final 4 minutes. This isn’t to say it was a conspiracy, or even incompetence–a few of these calls could have gone either way. This isn’t to say the Warriors deserved to win, whatever that means. I’m merely making the observation that near every call went towards the opposition. Such comeback-favoring (and I use the word “favoring” in regards to results, not intent) ref influence almost has to happen for a historic collapse to occur. A lot of elements go into a lost 16-point lead over 4 minutes. In similar situations, it’s usually a perfect storm of “poor play by the leading team, great play by the trailing team, and whistle fortune for the trailing team.” Anyway, the following calls and non calls swung against Golden State.
3:57: Tony Parker drives at Klay Thompson and pushes off him in a fairly creative flop. 6th foul for Thompson, whose sulking form is replaced by Richard Jefferson. Of Thompson’s dismissal, Chris Webber remarks, “Luckily for them, they don’t need him for the rest of the game.” Oh, if only that were true.
3:14: Stephen Curry drives past Boris Diaw, turns, and kicks the ball out to Richard Jefferson. Gary Neal absorbs Curry’s momentum and “takes” the charge from Curry’s back. To editorialize, I thought this was a really bad call. You shouldn’t be able to draw a charge off a dude’s back, and Neal clearly wasn’t knocked over. You can tell because Neal’s knees bend as he squats himself down on the floor before splaying out. Awful call, but credit the Spurs for trying to glean every advantage, even in trying times.
2:20: Jarrett Jack finally stops jacking horrible long two-pointers in isolation and drives on Boris Diaw. Of course, the smarter process isn’t rewarded with better results. Diaw and Ginobili both bump Jack, knocking him to floor. No call, Spurs recover the flailing shot.
1:00: Carl Landry misses a jumper, recovers the rebound in the ensuing scrum, and it results in an over-the-back call, drawn by Boris Diaw. I thought this should have been a no-call, but you could probably talk me into the foul. It’s hard to make sense of a rebounding scrum. Anyway, another whistle against Golden State. Over the final four minutes, the Warriors only drew one foul and it was the intentional foul of Richard Jefferson that resulted in bricked free throws.
A lot of moments comprised this disappointment, and only some of them were somebody’s specific fault. It’s up to the Warriors to work on whatever they can control, of course. On Monday night, they should have controlled more of a situation that got away from them.
Many observers are looking for a common explanation for these evaporating Warriors leads, as we also saw this happen against Denver. I don’t believe in chalking this up to the roster being young or inexperienced. Many of the worst decisions have come from the more seasoned veterans. My theory can be summarized like this: The roster is made up of guys who can’t get to the rim. Easy baskets and free throws are hard to come by when nobody gets to the rim. Fortunately for the Warriors, they can live on glorious stretches of made threes. Unfortunately for the Warriors, they have little to subsist on when those shots aren’t falling. So the result is high peaks and low valleys. When the valley come near the end, it can look bad. The goal should either be acquiring a rim attacker in the offseason, or running such a seamless Spurs-like offense that open threes are plentiful at the end of games. I’d certainly settle for both, though.