Spurs overpower weakened Warriors

By Jeff McDonald

OAKLAND, Calif. — Stephen Jackson emerged from the visitor’s locker room at Oracle Arena before tipoff Monday and promptly bumped into a familiar face from his past.

Wandering by was injured Golden State center Andrew Bogut, Jackson’s teammate in Milwaukee to start the season and the centerpiece of the deadline-day deal that nearly brought him back to the Bay Area in March.

The two exchanged hugs, pleasantries, and progress reports of their new surroundings.

“I’m so happy here,” Jackson told him.

As for the roster of players Golden State trotted out Monday? Jackson barely recognized any of them.

Facing an injury-depleted and lottery-bound Warriors team that started four rookies, the Spurs predictably ran roughshod, opening their second back-to-back-to-back of the season with a 120-99 victory.

Gary Neal scored 17 points off the bench to lead the Spurs, who assumed first place in the Western Conference thanks to Oklahoma City’s blowout loss at the Los Angeles Clippers.

While the Spurs (42-16) have been busy piling up victories — Monday’s was their 14th in 16 games — the Warriors have been piling up lottery balls.

Golden State played without five rotation players, including former Spurs forward Richard Jefferson, who missed his second consecutive game with a sore right knee.

The Warriors (22-38) started four first-year players — Klay Thompson, Jeremy Tyler, Charles Jenkins and Mickell Gladness. It marked the first time a team had used four rookies in its first five since March 9, 2003, when Denver did it in a loss at Orlando.

“I couldn’t name any of those guys,” Jackson said with a chuckle.

Meanwhile, the first player off coach Mark Jackson’s bench was Mikki Moore, a 36-year-old veteran center signed from the Development League literally hours before tipoff.

Golden State officials have shied away from the word “tanking,” but if the recent rash of injuries enhances the club’s chances of drafting Kentucky star Anthony Davis in June, they aren’t going to complain.

If nothing else, Monday’s game answered the age old question: So this is what Manu Ginobili would look like in a summer league game.

The gulf between the Spurs and Warriors, both in record and motivation, was apparent almost before tipoff. Ginobili summed it up this way:

“They have nothing to lose,” said Ginobili, who scored 12 points in 15 minutes. “We do.”

How enticing that No. 1 seed is to the Spurs is a topic of debate. Informed after the game the Spurs had re-assumed control of the West’s top slot, Tim Duncan’s expression did not change.

“We’re going to do our best to try to win the West,” he said. “But it’s not going to break our hearts if we don’t.”

At the very least, the Spurs did well not to squander the gift the Warriors gave them.

Duncan scored 13 points in a team-low 11 minutes while his backup, Tiago Splitter, contributed 15 points and eight rebounds, as the Spurs won their 14th in a row against Golden State.

At intermission, the Spurs were ahead 71-49, coming within one point of their highest-scoring half of the season.

“Just to get the Big Three rest in genera is good,” Neal said. “When the playoffs come, we’re only going to go as far as those guys take us.”

By the start of the third quarter, other storylines had already taken hold. Jackson returned to the arena he once helped set abuzz — and was booed every time he touched the ball.

Obtained in the deadline-day trade that sent Jefferson to the Warriors, Jackson was once a beloved member of the scrappy 2006-07 Golden State team that shocked top-seeded Dallas in the first round of that season’s playoffs.

He became considerably less popular in the Bay Area after he left in a trade to Charlotte in November 2009. Afterward, Jackson shrugged off the rude response.

“There’s about four or five arenas I get booed in now,” Jackson said.

Statistically, Jackson’s latest return to Oracle Arena didn’t go as well as his two trips back with the Bobcats, when he scored 30 and 31 points. This time, he scored eight points and did not make a field goal.

It was the only moral victory Warriors fans could take from Monday’s rout.

So thorough was the Spurs’ whipping of the Warriors that it allowed coach Gregg Popovich to rest several players in the second half, perhaps amending lineup plans for tonight’s game against the Lakers.

None of the Spurs’ Big Three of Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker logged more than 15 minutes, no insignificant occurrence considering they are scheduled for two more games the next two nights.

Though it is possible Popovich will hold some players out tonight in Los Angeles, he hasn’t yet ruled anyone out for the nationally televised game.

“You just try to play as well as you can and conserve as much as you can at the same time,” Popovich said. “Trying to win is a part of it. Trying to rest is a part of it.”

By fielding a lineup Monday better suited for Las Vegas in July, the Warriors gave the Spurs the best of both worlds.

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

Leave a Reply