San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich saw what nearly everyone else saw in his team Tuesday night.
Early in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, the game was already over.
“I don’t think they started the game with a belief,” Popovich said. “And it showed in the lack of edge, intensity, grunts, all that sort of thing. That was disappointing. When you’re playing a team that’s as good as Golden State, you’re going to get embarrassed if that’s the way you come out, and we did.”
Perhaps Popovich’s team, playing without its star Kawhi Leonard (sprained left ankle) accepted what most have: The Warriors are just too good and the only hope of derailing their championship run resides in Cleveland.
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Golden State has won 10 straight games to open the postseason and heads to San Antonio with a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals after Tuesday’s 136-100 humiliation of the Spurs at Oracle Arena.
At this rate, the Warriors’ biggest opponent is history as they seek to enter the NBA Finals 12-0. The last team to reach the Finals undefeated was the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers, who went 15-1 on their way to the championship.
San Antonio’s only hope might be a heroic return by Leonard on Saturday for Game 3, but that might not be enough to stop the momentum Golden State is building.
The Warriors have won 25 of 26 overall, and on many nights have annihilated the competition. And the Warriors are plenty motivated.
They remember watching the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate at Oracle after a Game 7 win in the 2016 Finals. That team was a history-making bunch of its own, winning 73 games in the regular season.
Making history must be on the Warriors’ minds, right? How better to erase the memory of losing Game 7 than with a perfect postseason?
“Not at all,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry. “It’s pretty easy not to think about that, if you know what I mean.”
That’s because last season reminded everyone records aren’t bragged about when a championship is not attached to them.
And the Spurs had a chance to stun the Warriors in Game 1, but fell apart in the second half without Leonard and wasted away a 25-point lead. Now they have to deal with an engaged Warriors team that isn’t likely to sleepwalk through a half, as they did in Game 1.
There will be no surprising these Warriors.
“When you get punched in the mouth like that it puts you on edge,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green. “Now the challenge will be not relaxing.”
The Warriors expect the Spurs will be tougher at AT&T Center, but if Leonard isn’t ready, that belief still might be lacking.
If that’s the case, it might not be until Finals that there is an opponent with the confidence to stand up to the Warriors.
Cleveland has to get by Boston in the Eastern Conference finals. Boston has homecourt advantage, but the Cavaliers are still the favorite and the Warriors cannot be concerned about chasing down the Cavs or history just yet.
“I don’t know,” said Warriors acting coach Mike Brown when asked if the Warriors’ play was meant to send a message to either Eastern team. “I have no answer for that. I’m not trying to forecast what I think Boston nor Cleveland should be thinking about.”
By time the Finals began, they might be thinking about stopping history.