Knockout Punch

Credit: D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

By Ben Golliver

The Spurs defeated the Warriors 95-88 at the AT&T Center on Friday night to win their third straight game, improving to 31-11 on the season and 18-2 at home. The Warriors fell to 23-15. 

•  This was a gallant effort on the road by the Warriors, who were without starting point guard and All-Star candidate Stephen Curry and who were attempting to regroup quickly after getting thumped by 17 points by the Heat on Wednesday. If Curry’s absence for the second straight game due to an ankle injury wasn’t bad enough, forward David Lee, who will very likely be selected as an All-Star reserve next week, badly rolled his ankle during this one. Lee tried to sprint away the pain and remained in the game when many players would have called it a night; he finished with a team-high 22 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

The Spurs machine cares not for your heroism or high pain tolerance. This wasn’t an A-level performance by San Antonio, who hit just five-for-22 from deep and got just 14 combined points from its bench in 78 combined minutes, but they took firm control of a tight game late in the fourth. Golden State, ranked No. 11 in defensive efficiency this season after ranking 26th last season, was reminded that it only takes one blown assignment against the Spurs to swing a game. On a night when Tim Duncan (24 points and 10 rebounds) and Tiago Splitter (19 points and nine rebounds) did most of the damage offensively, the Spurs’  knockout blow came from the perimeter.

With 90 seconds remaining and San Antonio holding a four-point lead, Tony Parker drove into the paint, using a high screen from Duncan, and collapsed the Warriors’ defense. One of the players tending to him was second-year wing Klay Thompson, who left Danny Green open in the right corner so that he could cut off a potential Parker to the hoop and contest a pull-up jumper once the attack was thwarted. Unfortunately for Thompson, Parker read the action, opting against a tough shot in midair and instead passing out to his wide open teammate. Green, who has taken more three-point attempts from the right corner than any other position around the arc this season and made 39.7 percent of them, buried the wide open look to give San Antonio a seven-point lead and crushed any hope Golden State had of extending the game to the final moments.  Parker finished with a game-high 25 points and eight assists, and his late dish proved, for the umpteenth time, that the Spurs’ third and fourth reads on a given play will almost always be efficient, prepared and ready to deliver.

•  Jarrett Jack has been an on-again, off-again starting point guard since being selected in the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft. The Warriors are his fifth team since 2008 and he did quite well for himself in securing a four-year contract worth a reported $20 million as an unrestricted free agent last summer. His market value was surely helped by a strong 2011-12 season for the terrible Hornets, where he averaged career-highs in points (15.6 points), assists (6.3) and rebounds (3.9) in the aftermath of the Chris Paul trade.

Signing a veteran player who put up big numbers on a bad team (the Hornets were 21-45 in the lockout-shortened season) can be one of the riskiest moves for a team anxious to get over the hump and into the playoff picture, like the Warriors were this summer. That’s especially true when asking a veteran player to accept a reserve role after playing a career-high 34.0 minutes as a starter in his previous stop. Jack has always been regarded as a team-first pro, though, which surely erased any concerned Golden State might have harbored about his willingness to sacrifice. Regardless, Golden State was in need of a back-up who was good enough to serve as a stand-in starter if Curry, who has missed long stretches with ankle issues during the last two seasons, went down again.

The Warriors’ signing of Jack, averaging 11.9 points and 5.1 assists in 27.8 minutes off the bench this season, looks like a brilliant, underrated move at the moment. With Curry sidelined, Jack has stepped in as expected for coach Mark Jackson, finishing with 20 points and 10 assists against just one turnover in 43 minutes versus the Spurs. The highlight of his night was a coast-to-coast jaunt to close the third quarter that left the Spurs looking like they had been struck by lightning. Once Curry returns, Jack simply goes back to being a tested, opportunistic third guard who will likely play big minutes in the playoffs.  Even better: the length of Jack’s deal helps lock him in with Curry, Thompson and rookie Harrison Barnes as a very good perimeter unit for years to come.

•  A bizarre scene delayed this game at halftime when second half warm-ups were halted because the rim the Warriors shooting on was bent and needed to be replaced. Here’s a brief video of the unusual scene.

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