Kurtenbach: The Warriors are facing a tougher opponent than the Spurs in Game 2

Kurtenbach: The Warriors are facing a tougher opponent than the Spurs in Game 2

OAKLAND — The Warriors did exactly what they needed to do in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.

After roughly a month of lackadaisical, half-hearted play to finish the regular season, the Warriors played their opening game of the postseason with an acute focus and undeniable defensive energy.

In turn, they looked like the world-beating, record-setting Warriors once again, even without Stephen Curry in the lineup.

Now the Warriors just need to do the same thing again. And again. And again.

Specifically, the Warriors need to play with that same energy and focus at least 15 more times if they plan on winning their third championship in four years this June.

That’s a tall order, no doubt, but it’s one this experienced Warriors team is certainly well-equipped to handle.

That’s why heading into Monday’s Game 2 (7:30 p.m., TNT), the Warriors aren’t so much concerned about the Spurs as they were about another opponent:

Human nature.

Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson (11) reacts after scoring a three-point basket over San Antonio Spurs' LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the third quarter of Game 1 of their NBA first-round playoff series at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson (11) reacts after scoring a three-point basket over San Antonio Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the third quarter of Game 1 of their NBA first-round playoff series at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

“I’ve seen this a million times — as a player, as a broadcaster, as a coach — you go out there in Game 1 and you hammer a team and you feel good about yourself… It’s almost automatic,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Sunday. “They’re simmering, they’re seething, we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves — next thing you know it’s 20-6 when we start out [Monday].”

The Warriors made passive play a habit in the regular season — how many times did they spot their opponent double-digit leads because of apathetic play early in the contest?. So while Saturday’s performance was impressive — it certainly inspires more confidence than the alternative — the real impressive act will be maintaining that level of play they showed in Game 1 — that focus, that energy — in the days, weeks, and months to come.

It’s not complicated stuff the Warriors need to re-create, either — simple things won Saturday’s game and will win playoff games going forward.

It’s in those details — in the stuff that doesn’t show up on the basic box score — that championships are won.

The Warriors know the formula to winning one (or two) of those, but after a season that made everyone wonder “if you don’t use it, can you lose it?” it’s fair to be skeptical that everything is a-ok and the Warriors are back at full capacity after one game.

Even Kerr is wondering.

“We boxed out every play [Saturday]… I don’t think we boxed out in about three weeks before that,” Kerr said. “That’s a great sign that we remembered that we have to box out, but can we do it again?”

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr speaks to his players during a timeout against the San Antonio Spurs in the second quarter of Game 1 of their NBA first-round playoff series at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr speaks to his players during a timeout against the San Antonio Spurs in the second quarter of Game 1 of their NBA first-round playoff series at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

I don’t think Saturday’s game was a mirage or a one-off, but, then again, San Antonio isn’t exactly a worthy adversary, like Houston, either. (While I’m in the comparison mood, I also don’t think the Spurs are near the level of Portland or New Orleans.)

But while Game 1 showed that this is a stepping-stone series for a Warriors team that I believe can compete for a title without Curry, that doesn’t mean they can afford to take a step back heading into Game 2.

The foot is on the throat after one game — that’s how impressive Saturday’s performance was; the Spurs looked physically and mentally overwhelmed. The Warriors need to start pressing down on Monday and not let up until the end of Game 4.

Or, as Kerr put it in not-so-extreme terms:

“It’s a process, you have to get better during the playoffs, you have to continue to improve, and be ready for everything that’s coming your way,” Kerr said. “We have to build these habits that we showed last [game].”

If Golden State does what they did in Game 1 again in Game 2, it won’t matter if the series is heading back to San Antonio for two games — the writing will be on the wall for the series and the only question will be if it’ll end in four or five games.

But a San Antonio win on Monday would change the entire mood of this showdown. All that momentum the Warriors earned in Game 1? A Spurs win in Monday would swing it back San Antonio’s way.

“They’re coming after us, and we know that,” Kerr said. “That’s what the playoffs are about, no matter who you are playing. It’s so different than the regular season.”

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 14: Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors looks on and reacts to the play on the court against the San Antonio Spurs in the first quarter during Game One of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoff at ORACLE Arena on April 14, 2018 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA – APRIL 14: Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors looks on and reacts to the play on the court against the San Antonio Spurs in the first quarter during Game One of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoff at ORACLE Arena on April 14, 2018 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) 

How will the Spurs flip the series? That’s anyone’s — including Kerr’s — guess right now.

The Spurs aren’t in the playoffs because they’re supremely talented — they might be the least talented team in the field. No, they’re playing the Warriors in a seven-game series because they’re smart, well-coached, experienced, and prideful.

“They’re resilient,” Kerr said. “I remember all too well, last year, Houston went in and smacked them around in Game 1 on the road. Houston probably thought ‘we got this’. Houston was the more talented team. Then four out of five, bam — Spurs came back. This is what they do when they’re at their best. If we go in and let our guard down, then we’re in for it.”

And after a loss like Saturday’s, San Antonio will make adjustments to put themselves in a better position for this critical (I’ll stop just say of saying all-important) Game 2 — just like they did last year against Houston.

Will the Spurs start Rudy Gay? Will LaMarcus Aldridge move into a high-post playmaking role?

“Pop is the best in the business, he’s been doing it forever at a high level, so we know that there’s some moves coming,” Kerr said.

The Warriors, on the other hand, already made their moves — Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup, JaVale McGee guarding Aldridge, and a defense that actually gave a damn worked resulted in an emphatic Game 1 win. And even if Kawhi Leonard shows up for Game 2 (don’t count on it), that Golden State formula — specifically the last bit of it — should work again on Monday and beyond.

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