SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs were teetering on the edge of elimination against the defending champions while star forward Kawhi Leonard again watched from New York and head coach Gregg Popovich again was absent after the death of his wife. Sunday seemed ripe to mark the end of their 2017-18 campaign. They faced too many obstacles in their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors -- and had too little to counter.
"In this kind of situation, sometimes you are already fine with playing a good game," said Spurs assistant Ettore Messina, who filled in for Popovich. "You shake their hands and congratulate them on their way to a possible championship and go home happy.
"I think our guys wanted more."
Indeed, the Spurs played with far more fire in Game 4 at AT&T Center. But more importantly, after three straight games of missing so many wide-open 3-pointers, the Spurs finally connected from distance. San Antonio made 15 3-pointers, one shy of their playoff high as a team. And every one of them was critical in staving off the Warriors to win 103-90 and extend the series to Game 5 on Tuesday in Oakland.
Entering Sunday, the Spurs had shot a dreadful 24 percent (20-of-83) from 3-point range in first three games of this series -- and just 13 percent (4-of-30) when that attempt was uncontested.
But Sunday, the Spurs made 15 of 28 from beyond the arc, including 8 of 10 when those shots were uncontested, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Their 15 made 3-pointers fell one shy of their postseason mark of 16 set in Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals against Miami.
"Sometimes, the ball goes in," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. "Tonight was their night from 3."
After the Warriors trailed by as much as 17 in the first half, forward Kevin Durant sank a 3-pointer with 5:57 left in the fourth quarter to bring them within two. But then the Spurs countered with a 15-4 run to close the game, with Manu Ginobili and LaMarcus Aldridge combining to score all 15 points for San Antonio.
Ginobili was crucial down the stretch for the Spurs, turning in a vintage performance with 16 points off the bench, including 10 in the fourth quarter. The last time Ginobili scored 10 or more points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game came in 2012. Aldridge finished with a team-high 22 points, including a perfect 3-for-3 mark from beyond the arc, even banking in a clutch, second-half 3-pointer. As that shot went in, Aldridge said he told himself, "Well, this is about time we had these breaks."
"Regression to the mean," explained Ginobili. "We're not terrible shooters. We're not the best shooting team in the league, but we're not that bad, either, to shoot 20 percent every game."
The Spurs' long-distance sharp-shooting helped wipe out the Warriors' huge rebounding edge -- 61 to 34. Golden State's 61 rebounds are the most by a team in a playoff loss since the Phoenix Suns lost Game 5 of the 1995 Western Conference semifinals to the Houston Rockets.
"You [media] ever seen a box score like this?" Kerr said. "We outrebounded them 61-34 and lost by 13."
Golden State was also undone by sloppy ballhandling. The Warriors tallied seven turnovers in the first quarter, tied for their most turnovers in an opening quarter all season. In the first half, when the Spurs led by as much as 17, the Warriors had 11 turnovers, while the Spurs had just one.
"You can't turn the ball over seven times and spot them a 10- or 12-point lead and make them play at their pace," said Warriors swingman Klay Thompson, who shot just 4-of-16. "Come Tuesday, we're going to start better."
Said Warriors reserve Shaun Livingston, "Again, let this be a lesson to us, all of us, that we got to come out and take care of business -- no games. We're not just going to lay down."