The odds of San Antonio winning Game 1, faced with a 16-point deficit and 271 seconds remaining, were slim. 1-200, actually.
You're better off betting on the Charlotte Bobcats to win the NBA Finals next year.
What ensued was a few lucky bounces, pesky defense, excellent execution and Stephen Curry's untimely cold streak. The Spurs defied the odds — a familiar sight for Warriors fans, who are hoping for at least one pivotal road victory this series, which would be a first during the Tim Duncan era.
The narrow victory, replete with late-game heroics, means that Golden State can compete in a hostile environment. How exactly should the Spurs counter in Game 2?
Defend Curry with Leonard
Prior to the fourth quarter, TNT's David Aldridge asked Gregg Popovich how he prevented his players — primarily Tony Parker — from being discouraged while defending Curry. The Spurs were down 12 at the time. Curry weaved through the teeth of the Spurs defense easily in the third frame, tallying 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Curry created many problems but offered little solutions.
The lead eventually stretched to 16 points with 4:31 remaining.
Popovich's response: Have the precocious Kawhi Leonard check Curry instead of Parker.
The result: Curry turned the ball over once, and missed each of his three shots in the final five minutes of the fourth period.
So should Leonard (and Danny Green) defend Curry the entire game?
Probably. Against longer defenders, Green and Leonard, Curry scored eight points on 3-of-11 shooting (27.3 percent) according to ESPN Stats and Information. Curry, meanwhile, toyed with Parker and Cory Joseph, making 13-of-19 shots (68.4 percent).
It isn't as simple as switching Leonard or Green onto Curry and calling it a night, however. While Leonard's length is an important factor in disrupting Curry, placing Parker on Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes creates another mismatch in itself. Thompson and Barnes each added 19 points in Game 1 and have a big upper hand against Parker, primarily because of their height. Is Pop willing to concede these looks for a better defensive matchup against Curry?
Attack Curry defensively
Since Curry is carrying a massive offensive load — he jacked up 35 shots, five more looks than Barnes and Thompson combined — coach Mark Jackson can't afford him to expend excess energy on the defensive end. Most times, he'll cross-match Curry and Thompson — entrusting the longer Thompson to tackle the Spurs' toughest perimeter assignment, Parker. Popovich did design a few sets to take advantage of Curry, bullying him with screens away from the ball and forcing him into tough perimeter close-outs. And when Parker drew Curry late in the fourth quarter, he crashed into the lane, unfurling three high-efficiency shots. But the Spurs should still attack Curry as often as they can. If he excises any energy running around on the perimeter, it makes the lives of Spurs defenders exponentially easier on the opposite end.
Über-small lineups may work
There's small ball and then there's something else. Popovich's most used-lineup on Monday — Parker-Green-Ginobili-Leonard-Diaw — was something else. The combination logged 10 minutes, mostly in the final period during Tim Duncan's absence, and outscored the Warriors by 64.8 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com/Stats
Golden State can and does use small lineups regularly so this isn't anything new; the problem is in defending a lineup with three playmakers (Parker, Ginobili and Diaw) and two perimeter bombers (Green and Leonard), who also operate as effective weak-side cutters. They didn't have any success in a limited sample. Perhaps Pop can play around with a few lineups and give the Warriors defense too many offensive options to handle.