Spurs-Warriors in NBA's Western Conference Finals: Five Takeaways From Game 1

RTX35U8J
Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs lays on the court after re-injuring his ankle on Sunday against the Warriors. USA TODAY SPORTS

The Golden State Warriors' dramatic come-from-behind Game 1 victory against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals was the team's 24th win in its past 25 games. The last time the Warriors went 24-1 was at the outset of their historic 2015-16 season, when they opened 24-0 before losing at the Milwaukee Bucks. Here are five other incredible tidbits that may be plumbed from the Game 1 result.

1. Maybe Kawhi Leonard Is The NBA's Most Valuable Player

In terms of one player's value to his team, Sunday's game at Oracle Arena demonstrated that there is no better squad in the NBA that relies on one player as much as the Spurs rely on sixth-year forward Kawhi Leonard. At the time Leonard was forced to depart with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter of Sunday's game after reinjuring his left ankle, the Spurs led 78-55 and he had scored 26 points. The Warriors immediately embarked on an 18-0 run in the ensuing three-plus minutes to close the gap to 78-73.

The Spurs will likely rest Leonard, who first injured his ankle in Game 5 of the previous series against the Houston Rockets, for Game 2 on Tuesday night at Oracle Arena. Game 3 is not until Saturday in Texas, giving the team a chance to provide Leonard, the Spurs' leader in points (27.7 per game), steals and assists per game this postseason, with five days of rest.

2. The Spurs Are the Only Team Capable of Embarrassing Golden State the Way the Warriors Embarrass Everyone Else

RTX35U96
Leonard was the best player on the court for the game's first 28 minutes USA TODAY SPORTS

Forget being able to beat them: The Spurs are the only team capable of routinely building 20-point leads against the otherwise steamrolling Warriors. The first two times they met this year, including the season opener at Golden State, San Antonio won by 29 and 22 points, respectively. In their third meeting, on March 29 in San Antonio, the Spurs led by 22 points in the first quarter before Golden State surged back to win by 12. In all four of their meetings this season, the Spurs have led by at least 18 points in the first half.

No one else in the NBA knows how to put a hurt on the Warriors the way the Dubs routinely do unto other teams, and that all rests with coach Gregg Popovich. As difficult as Sunday's defeat must be for a Spurs fan to digest, the welcome reminder is that if both squads are at full strength for Game 3 and beyond, San Antonio is the superior team. Also, while a repeat performance is unlikely, the last time the Spurs played a road game minus Kawhi Leonard (and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker, who will be out for the rest of the playoffs), they ended the Houston Rockets' season with a 35-point win.

3. The Warriors' Record Without Steve Kerr on the Bench Is Astounding

Sunday's 113-111 victory marked the 50th game that Golden State coach Steve Kerr has been forced to miss due to agonizing back pain in the past two seasons. In those contests the Warriors have compiled an incredible 46-4 record for a .920 winning percentage.

Last year, Kerr's then assistant coach Luke Walton guided the Warriors to a league-record 24-0 start and finished 39-4 before handing the keys to the team back to his boss. All of Golden State's four losses under Walton took place on the road, the first of which, at Milwaukee, was on the second night of a back-to-back after a double overtime victory in Boston. In the second defeat, at Dallas, Stephen Curry did not play. Curiously, none of the four teams that beat Walton's Warriors (the Bucks, Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons) finished with one of the league's top 10 records.

Since Kerr removed himself from the sideline this postseason, assistant coach Mike Brown has led the Warriors to a 7-0 record. No one is even close to suggesting that the Warrior are a better squad without Kerr's soothing presence—on the contrary, their performance in his absence is a credit to the culture he has fostered in Oakland—but during this unprecedented two-year run in which Golden State has won 73 and 67 regular-season games, respectively, his record (118-19, for an .861 win percentage) falls short of those of his stand-ins.

4. Klay Thompson Is in a Bay Area Fog

RTX35U8S
Thompson did not score a point in the fourth quarter on Sunday USA TODAY SPORTS

In two of the Warriors' past three games, All-Star guard Klay Thompson has finished with six points while shooting a combined three-for-20 (.150) from the field. Thompson, who scored 41 points in Golden State's astounding comeback win at Oklahoma City in Game 6 of last year's Western Conference finals, shot one-for-nine in Game 3 against the Utah Jazz in last week's conference semis and two-for-11 yesterday. Having two former league MVPs as teammates makes Thompson's funk less glaring than it could be, but it is incredible that the three-time All-Star, who set an NBA record just two years ago for most points in one quarter, with 37, was held to three points in each half on Sunday.

5. Even Gregg Popovich Is Mortal

The Spurs lost for the first time in Gregg Popovich's 21 seasons at the helm after building a lead of 25 or more points. Before Sunday afternoon, Popovich's record once San Antonio had built a lead of 25 or more points was 316-0. There may be no other coach in NBA history whose team has built 316 25-point leads, considering that Pop is the only one who has helmed an NBA team throughout the entirety of the explosion of the three-pointer.

Spurs-Warriors in NBA's Western Conference Finals: Five Takeaways From Game 1 | Sports