SAN ANTONIO -- Spurs veteran guard Manu Ginobili spit a hard dose of truth minutes after he scored the most points off the bench (21), according to research from Elias, by a player 39 or older in a playoff game since stats were first tracked in 1970-71.
"The fact is that it's just too tough," Ginobili said.
San Antonio entered the contest without star forward Kawhi Leonard (ankle) or point guard Tony Parker (quadriceps tendon), then lost another key contributor, David Lee, with 2:57 remaining in the first quarter, when he suffered a knee injury upon landing from what appeared to be a routine layup.
The Spurs put up the fight you would expect from a Gregg Popovich-coached squad. The problem is that San Antonio couldn't bring much weaponry to this squabble, which featured four All-Stars on the other side.
"Yeah, I thought they did a great job," Popovich said. "They competed really well. Couldn't ask any more from them, competitiveness-wise. We turned it over. Kevin Durant had his way for a period there in transition. But the competitiveness was great. Every time you look up, you're playing against four All-Stars, so you better be pretty perfect, and competitiveness-wise, I couldn't ask for anything more. We turned it over too much, and we've got to make some more shots. But it's a helluva team."
The Spurs tipped off against the Warriors with a starting lineup featuring Patty Mills, Jonathon Simmons, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green and LaMarcus Aldridge. It marked the first time all season that particular group started a game together, and the collection had played a combined six minutes all season.
Still, they held their own against Golden State's starters during the early part of the game, building a six-point lead at one point and leading 33-29 at the end of the first quarter.
By halftime, the Warriors' lead had swelled to nine points, before Durant busted things open with a 19-point third quarter on 5 of 6 shooting, which included a couple of long-range connections.
The Spurs managed to contest all 19 of Durant's field goal attempts, and his 11 made contested buckets tied for his most in a game this postseason, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. His 57.9 percent connection rate on such shots ranks as his best this postseason.
San Antonio's expected offensive go-to player didn’t fare nearly as well. After a lousy Game 2 outing by Aldridge, the big man vowed to play a more aggressive brand of ball in Game 3. Even Popovich had called out Aldridge after what the coach described as an "embarrassing" defeat, saying the power forward had "a responsibility" to make something happen in Saturday's outing.
Aldridge failed miserably in that respect, though he did play more aggressively.
"Yeah, he was more aggressive," Green said. "Regardless if he's missing shots, that's what we want from him: to continue to put the pressure on them, to continue to be himself. If anybody can shoot over two or three people, we like our odds with him being aggressive and attacking and putting some pressure on the defense."
Aldridge shot just 7-of-17 for 18 points, and Popovich's flat response of "sure" when asked whether he got what he wanted out of the power forward provided a telling answer.
"I tried my best," Aldridge said. "They still doubled and clogged from the elbow and tried to make things difficult. So I just tried to pick my spots to take my shots. Even if it was a tough shot at times, I still took it. They're a good defensive team, and they keyed on something and made things tough out there. If you don't really play basketball, then you probably don't understand it. But they're doubling from the elbow and from the block area. I'm not really playing one-on-one as often as I would like, but I'm still trying to make plays and trying to get my teammates shots. But it's not as easy as it looks when guys are double-teaming me all of the time."
Still, on the defensive end, Aldridge's contributions wouldn't be considered notable, either. Aldridge allowed the most points of any Spurs defender for the second consecutive game (18 points in each), according to ESPN Stats & Information data, and he posted a team-worst rating of minus-27, in addition to grabbing five rebounds in 28 minutes.
In fact, the only defender to stir up trouble against Durant was Simmons. Durant knocked down 9 of 10 field goals for 27 points against eight other Spurs who guarded him in half-court offense, but he was only able to hit 2-of-6 from the field for five points on Simmons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
"We played with good effort tonight," Simmons said. "We just came up short to a great team. We played our hearts out, but things didn't go our way. Give credit to them. They're making their shots. They are just doing what they need to do."
It’s now fair to ask whether it would be worth it for the Spurs to potentially bring back Leonard for Game 4, given the 0-3 deficit and little chance of climbing out of that hole.
Popovich and Spurs general manager R.C. Buford have said that the Spurs will always prioritize the long-term health of a player, and that's what the club needs to be doing in this situation with Leonard, considering his value to the franchise.
The loss of two Spurs starters had already zapped the competitiveness of this series, and the expected absence of Lee makes San Antonio's odds of overcoming Golden State in this series nearly impossible.
As for Ginobili, his team-high 21 points marked the first time that he had produced 20 or more points in a regular-season or postseason game since March 2016. Ginobili doesn't doubt that San Antonio will put forth the requisite effort on Sunday in Game 4, but he's absolutely sure that the Spurs need to play their best to have a chance.
"The next game is the last one," Ginobili said. "So we've got to give everything we have. You don't need to rest. You don't need to take care of your body or save. You give everything you have for the next one. For us to win, we have to play at a 10 level, and [the Warriors] have to play at a 7. And we have to try to make them play a 7 and play our best game.
"We know it's going to be very tough. We don't know what's going to happen with Kawhi. So we have to be out there, compete, feel good about yourself, give everything you have, and if that's enough, great. If it's not, great too."