OAKLAND, Calif. -- Andre Iguodala spelled out the dynamic in Friday’s shootaround: "The Spurs seem to be this team's big brother, and they just keep beating on us.” That’s why the Golden State Warriors' 110-99 smacking of the Spurs has some significance, even if it’s just one game in a long season. San Antonio has dominated this matchup, and the Warriors, now coached by a Gregg Popovich disciple, are built in their image.
Before the season began, Steve Kerr was often pressed by media on whether he would run Phil Jackson’s triangle or model his offense off the Steve Nash-era Suns. Kerr kept reiterating that he wanted to emulate San Antonio’s motion offense. Though he’s famously linked to Phil Jackson due to his courtship with the Knicks, Popovich is just as much his mentor. After Friday’s game was finished, Kerr told attending reporters he was on his way to drink a glass of wine with the coach he’d just beat.
This blowout -- and it was a blowout 'til garbage time cut the score down a bit -- marks the first time the Warriors have beaten the Spurs since the 2013 playoffs. Back then, it looked like Golden State would undo aging San Antonio and dance on its grave. Remember, at that point, the Spurs hadn’t been to a Finals in seven years, making their demise as a Western power an actual, plausible thought. The Warriors tied the series 1-1 in emphatic fashion after coughing up an 18-point lead in Game 1. They’d outplayed San Antonio. They’d punished Tony Parker with post plays and he looked absolutely gassed. The young team was ascendant. The old team was on the wane.
History didn’t exactly go that way. Popovich switched Kawhi Leonard onto Klay Thompson, fundamentally altering the series in San Antonio’s favor. Curry’s ankle turned in Game 3, eliminating any hope that Golden State could pull off an upset. Since that point, San Antonio has absolutely bedeviled them, winning the last five contests and beating the Warriors at home, on national TV, with a bench unit.
If that dynamic has shifted, it might be because little brother is adopting big brother’s principles. After this game, the Warriors players weren’t exactly triumphant. They sounded a bit like San Antonio’s players sound in their news conference, emphasizing process over any particular one accomplishment. On finally beating big brother, Curry said, “It’s not the opponent so much as what we’re trying to do. And that’s the theme of what took place on the court.”
The commitment to process was visible at the end of the third quarter, even after the Warriors had blown open the game. Curry had the crowd talking in tongues after swishing a step-back 3 over Tiago Splitter. He had the opportunity to close out the quarter with an isolation shot that he’d certainly earned the right to take. The arena was primed for it -- begging for it even. So the Spurs sent a trap, causing Curry to do the point guard thing: find an open Andre Iguodala for a 3-pointer.
“Early in my career, I’d probably try to dribble around, fling a 3 up or something,” Curry said of the play. “But if you see a trap coming, giving it up to the open man in the right time so we get as close to the last shot as possible is a great play. It was as loud erupting to [Iguodala’s] 3 as they would have to mine.”
This game marked a stark contrast from how the Warriors looked at the end of that Spurs series, when they constantly hunted isolation matchups in the post. That old Golden State team believed in stopping ball movement in pursuit of pretty much any size advantage. Oddly enough, San Antonio on a Friday night reminded one a bit of the old Warriors, as many of its possessions devolved into aimless post-ups. To be fair, the Spurs were on the end of a back-to-back, and Golden State was blowing up their sets with aggressive switching.
The Warriors will take the win, though a single win isn’t what matters right now. When asked whether beating certain possible playoff matchups matters, Curry fell back on the team’s current ethos: “Getting better every single night, regardless of what our record is. At the end of the season, we have to feel good about how we’re playing. And that’s our only mission.”