Monday night’s 136-100 drubbing at the hands of the Warriors was one of the worst playoff losses in Gregg Popovich’s career, the type of dispirited performance that seemed as predictable as it did uncharacteristic, given the circumstances and the opponent.
In his post-game press conference, the Spurs coach did his best to boil down what had happened:
“It’s not what I expected, and I’m disappointed. The only way I can express it is it’s not about Os and Xs or rebounds or turnovers – I think we maybe felt (Kawhi being gone) a bit too much. I don’t think they believed, and you have to believe.”
Kawhi Leonard’s absence was the reason, of course, but by no means an excuse. Less than a week before, the same Spurs team had gone out to Houston, sans Leonard, and laid a similarly-sized blowout victory on the Rockets in an elimination game. That group showed a confidence, focus and effort that was notably absent on Tuesday night.
The brunt of the blame will (as it always does) fall on LaMarcus Aldridge, who had just two points in the first half and finished with eight, to go along with four rebounds and zero trips to the free-throw line. Aldridge was passive throughout the game, struggling to read the Warriors defense and rarely looking to assert himself in the post.
Pau Gasol may have been a little better, but his lack of footspeed was on display against an opponent that looked to push the pace as much as possible.
Then there was Patty Mills, who was once again put in the unenviable position of having to defend two-time MVP Steph Curry on one end while being guarded by 6’7’’ Klay Thompson on the other. With Kawhi Leonard out, a lot is being asked of Mills, who’s already had to step into the role of the injured Tony Parker. Still, he’s shot just 3-of-14 over two games and provided the team with little of his trademark spark on either end.
The one silver lining, according to Pop? Jonathon Simmons, who led the team with 22 points, making the most of another playoff start in place of Leonard.
“Jon… came to play. I thought he was great. At both ends of the floor he was intense and he played to win. For sure.”
The good news for the Spurs is that the series now comes back to San Antonio, with three days’ rest between Game 2 and Game 3. That’s plenty of time to digest this loss (and a team dinner) and look to hold serve at home.
"We'll put it away,” Pop said. “We'll get a meal. Game 3, I expect to see a different team."
Whether that team will have Leonard remains to be seen. He’s turned on the same ankle three times now, and there’s still a chance the team shuts him down for the playoffs if they believe it’s in his better long-term interest.
Game 3 tips off Saturday at 8pm in San Antonio.