With 4:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, the San Antonio Spurs were less than five minutes away from taking a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Golden State Warriors Sunday in Oracle Arena.
Then, the Spurs held an 80-72 lead over the Warriors, but a change was coming for the silver and black. In those final 4:49 minutes the Spurs went cold and were outscored 12-4 as the Warriors forced overtime.
Once overtime began, the Spurs fell silent as Jarrett Jack and the Warriors outscored the Spurs 13-3 to win game four 97-87 and tie the series at two games apiece.
"They're a bunch of Warriors,” said Warriors coach Mark Jackson after the game, “no pun intended." Jackson’s Warriors had an early five point lead but then the Spurs were able to build their lead up to 11, where they held a 7-9 point lead for a majority of the game.
"One thing I know,” said Jackson of his team, “this team will not lay down. They won't quit. It looked dark. It looked awfully dark, but we found a way."
After the Spurs were the ones who made the comeback in game one and forced double overtime, the Warriors looked like the veteran squad making the comeback as they didn’t turn the ball over at all in the final quarter or overtime period.
With Warriors star Stephen Curry playing on a hobbled ankle and Kawhi Leonard virtually taking Klay Thompson out of the game at times, Jackson needed someone to step up Sunday, rookie Harrison Barnes heard his coach’s call and delivered Sunday.
"We needed our wing players to be aggressive,” said Jackson of Barnes Sunday. “The guy has grown up before our eyes." Though Barnes’ shooting numbers didn’t look great (9-of-26 from the field), he led the Warriors with 26 points and always found a way to answer San Antonio whether it was a drive to the basket, making a critical jump shot, or keeping possessions alive with his rebounding (10 rebounds).
"Tonight, Barnes and Jack were tremendous," added Spurs head Coach Gregg Popovich Sunday. Jack too was the Warriors’ go-to man in the fourth quarter and overtime, as he finished the game with 24 points. Jack was the catalyst in the Warriors’ late quarter run in the fourth.
"In overtime we just stopped scoring,” said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili after the game. “We kept running our same plays and they didn't fall. They just made every shot."
For the Spurs, there were a number of issues Sunday even though they held the lead for the majority of the game: missed shots, turnovers, missed free throws, and the biggest of them all, rebounding.
"If you make shots you win,” said Popovich summing up the game. His team looked a little tired down the stretch, but he said that was apparent from both squads.
"They executed and they made some shots,” continued Popovich of the Warriors to close the game out on a 25-7 run when you combine the fourth quarter and overtime. “We didn't lose any aggressiveness," though he added of his team in the extra period.
Though they received many wide open opportunities, the Spurs just couldn’t seem to consistently knock down any 3-pointers. Manu Ginobili began the game making his first four 3-pointers in a row, but even he cooled off in the second half as he would shoot 1-of-6 from distance the rest of the way. In the overtime, after being allowed a wide-open look, Ginobili aired a 3-pointer, a sign that might have shown some fatigue on his body.
"My last few shots were short,” said Ginobili after the game. “I don't know if I was tired or what?"
"27 is too much for us," said Popovich of his team shooting 7-of-27 from beyond the arc Sunday.
Another area where the Spurs failed to convert on Sunday was the free throw department. The team shot 14-of-25 from the charity stripe Sunday (56%), an area they normally shoot close to 80%.
"I don't have a secret answer for that,” said Ginobili off all the missed free throws, “sometimes you make them, sometimes you miss."
Even Popovich couldn’t figure out why his team struggled so much from the free throw line.
"We missed them,” said Popovich of his team’s free throw shooting. “It's uncharacteristic. I don't know why (we missed them)?"
If there was one area the Spurs really lost the battle in, it was the rebounding department. The team actually played solid defense throughout the entire game (minus overtime) holding the Warriors to 19-18-23-24 points in consecutive quarters, along with forcing 18 turnovers, and limiting the Warriors to 38% shooting from the floor. But the Warriors used offensive rebounds throughout the night to gain extra possessions and score.
"Our biggest problem was defensive rebounds," said Ginobili after the game. The Spurs were out-rebounded 65-51overall, but gave up 19 offensive rebounds. Barnes and Andrew Bogut alone combined for 10 offensive boards.
Making baskets was a struggle for both squads as even the Spurs shot 36% overall from the field. The playmakers all had off nights as Ginobili finished with 21 points on 18 shots, Tim Duncan 19 points on 22 attempts, Tony Parker 17 points on 17 attempts, Leonard 17 points on 17 shots, and Danny Green 10 points on 13 attempts.
The Warriors were just as bad with Curry scoring 22 points on 15 shots and Klay Thompson scoring 10 points on 13 attempts.
As the series shifts back to San Antonio Tuesday for Game five, the Spurs know that even though they had a chance to take a commanding lead in the series, they did reach their goal of winning at least one of the weekend games in Oakland.
However, depending on the outcome of game five, Ginobili knows the team let one slip away Sunday.
"What is disappointing is we had them where we wanted and we blew it.” Will game four be a game that haunts San Antonio in the future of this series? Only Tuesday will tell.