19, 21, 19, 23.
Above are four random numbers. When put into the realm of basketball on Thursday, those numbers represent how many points the San Antonio Spurs allowed the Golden State Warriors to score in Game 6 in four consecutive quarters.
Like last season, the Spurs are one their way back to the Western Conference Finals after eliminating the Warriors 94-82. Unlike last year though, the Spurs have shown the ability to be a defensive force as they held the high scoring Warriors, who came into the series averaging 107 points per game in the playoffs, to 98 points in the series.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili struggled to score Thursday, but even though shots weren’t going in for them, they were going in for their teammates as five Spurs players finished scoring in double figures and Ginobili and Parker were responsible for 19 of the teams 27 assists.
"I want to congratulate the Warriors on a great season,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich after the game, “obviously a class organization."
The Warriors did just that, competed in the series, but stayed classy and professional. "Guys battled,” said Warriors coach Mark Jackson of his Warriors. “Guys gave me everything they had and we fought.”
The Spurs jumped out early on the Warriors and the game stayed within 10 points for the first half. The Spurs’ lead would rise to 13 in the second half, but the Warriors would get the lead down to less than five points early in the fourth quarter before the Spurs found answers to put the series away.
Tim Duncan led the charge in the first half scoring 13 of his 19 points. Duncan finished the game with three blocks but what was interesting was Popovich’s decision to pull Duncan from the game with four minutes remaining and allowing Tiago Splitter to finish the game.
Whether it was a situational use or Duncan was running out of fuel, Popovich said “I just made that choice," after the game on pulling Duncan. With Splitter playing 31 minutes he increased the Spurs’ defense and also allowed their pick-and-roll game to thrive. Splitter finished the night with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, always being an automatic target for Ginobili and Parker to find in pick-and-roll plays.
Kawhi Leonard chipped in with 16 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and a huge dunk. But was most impressive about the second year player was his composure in the fourth quarter as helped deliver a late game 3-pointer that put the game away.
Danny Green’s job was to limit rookie Harrison Barnes as much as possible. He did just that as Barnes went 4-of-10 scoring nine points. Barnes left the game in the second quarter with a head injury but returned in the third quarter. After playing a stretch in the third, he was rested for the remainder of the game due to headaches. As for Green, he supplied the Spurs’ offense with 11 points and was a constant recipient of passes from Parker and Ginobili as he awaited his 3-of-4 three pointers.
"I was just tired,” said Parker after the game. “I think all the minutes caught up with me. Tonight I just didn't have it." Parker and Ginobili were both off Thursday combining to shoot 4-of-22 for 18 points. Ginobili did finish with 11 assists however.
As for Parker, he went into the fourth quarter having only scored three points through the first three quarters. With less than five minutes remaining in the fourth, he went on a scoring tear putting up 10 points to finish the game with 13 points. He said after the game his teammates and Popovich just kept pushing him to continue shooting and his shots eventually went in, as evidenced by two 3-pointers he made in the fourth quarter to put the Warriors away.
The defense was the one constant for the Spurs throughout the night as they held the Warriors to 39% shooting and 4-of-16 from 3-point range. Curry finished with 22 points but needed 25 shots. Jarrett Jack finished with 15 points on 12 shots. Klay Thompson 10 points on 12 attempts, and Carl Landry 11 points on eight heaves at the basket.
With San Antonio wrapping up their series against Golden State in six games, they will now have two days to prepare for the Memphis Grizzlies who will meet them in the Western Conference Finals on Sunday.
It will be a rematch from 2011, as the Grizzlies upset the Spurs in six games, but both teams look much different two years later. Popovich called the Grizzlies one of the best defensive teams left in the playoffs along with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. However, the Spurs too have made defense a strong part of their identity through this regular season and playoff run.
"This year we have another opportunity to go to the finals," said Parker of advancing to the Western Conference finals and facing the Grizzlies.
When Popovich was asked what it felt like to go back to the WCF in back-to-back years, he kept it simple. "It means that we're in the conference finals."