And speaking of his own squad entering Monday’s Game 2 at Oracle Arena, the Spurs’ coach offered another wisecrack: “Shooting better would be nice too.”
Nope and nada.
Durant poured in 32 points to go along with 31 from teammate Klay Thompson, and the Spurs registered one of their worst 3-point postseason performances since Popovich took over as head coach in December 1996, all of it adding up to a 116-101 loss for San Antonio that placed the Spurs in a 0-2 series hole.
Game 3 is in San Antonio on Thursday.
The Spurs connected on just 4 of 28 attempts from 3-point range — and that 14.3 3-point percentage marked the second-worst accuracy mark by the Spurs in a postseason game (minimum of 20 attempts) since Popovich’s first full season in 1997-98.
All those misfires spoiled an inspired 34-point, 12-rebound performance from All-Star center LaMarcus Aldridge and a strong bounce-back effort from the Spurs after Saturday’s double-digit loss.
“You know, both teams are going to make mistakes here and there, and that’s fine, but the ball has to go in the basket, and that’s the difference in the ballgame,” Popovich said.
The Warriors shot 15-of-31 from 3-point range, with Durant hitting three 3-pointers, Thompson sinking 5-of-8 and Andre Iguodala hitting 4-of-5.
“That’s tough to overcome,” Popovich continued, “but I was really happy with [the Spurs’] execution and their aggressiveness, and hopefully we’ll keep that and stick together, but you’ve got to make shots.”
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili offered his take.
“I feel better about this loss than the previous one,” Ginobili said. “I think we competed way harder, we executed better. The thing is, there’s always something. Today, we had an off night shooting, and they had great shooters. We did a lot of great things but, bottom line, we shot 4-for-28, they shot 15-for-30.
“It’s hard. We worked hard, you know; it’s just not enough.”
With star guard Stephen Curry sidelined, the Warriors rode Durant and Thompson — and Monday marked the second time that each scored 30 or more in a contest for Golden State. The other instance: Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
“It can’t happen again,” Ginobili added. “Sadly, it can’t happen again. What I do think is that some of the shots were good shots. You chase Klay all over the place. You give him half an inch, he gets it off. Same with Durant. They are good. When they can do things like that, everything is harder. We have to move the ball like 20 times from one side to the other to get an open shot. Then we get it and we miss. That made it much tougher. Every time we were in a situation, we missed a few open shots, and they didn’t.”
Steph Curry’s confidence is so high that he doesn’t need to watch Klay Thompson’s 3-pointer go in on the bench.
Draymond Green chipped in with nine points, six assists, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
After being trounced in Game 1, the Spurs fought admirably behind Aldridge and jumped out to a six-point halftime lead.
“They just took it to us the whole first half,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “They were tremendous defensively. That’s I think the second-best defense in the league statistically, and they showed it in that first half. They got after us. They took away everything we were trying to do.
“So in the second half, I thought we matched that effort level, that physicality, and we’re able to get the upper hand and obviously we had a lot of guys do some great things out there.”
The Warriors deployed their usual third-quarter barrage, this one a 17-5 run to start the frame. Then in the fourth, the Warriors kept leaning on their stars, and Thompson and Durant produced. Thompson scored 24 points in the second half alone, his second-most second-half points in his postseason career.
Kerr made a point of mentioning how much better Thompson looks since being sidelined recently with a fractured thumb.
“He finally got some time off,” Kerr said. “So I think in hindsight, probably wasn’t the worst thing for him to get a few weeks off because he looks really, really fresh and sharp right now.”
“Any time you can take a few games off, unfortunately it hurts when you do, but in the long run, we try to play till June every season,” Thompson said. “So I think it will help out in the long run.”
Behind Thompson and Durant, the defending champions stretched their lead to 19 points at its widest margin and held on against a Spurs squad that is still trying to make do with Kawhi Leonard indefinitely residing in New York.
One might also deduce that Popovich potentially made a veiled comment directed right at Leonard when Popovich was asked about Aldridge’s big night.
“LaMarcus has been a monster all year long,” Popovich said. “He’s led our team at both ends of the floor. He doesn’t complain about a darned thing out on the court. He just plays through everything. I can’t imagine being more proud of a player as far as playing through adversity and being there for his teammates night after night after night. He’s been fantastic.”
Kerr harped on turnovers before the game, saying it was one of his main critiques of Saturday’s double-digit win, in which his team tallied 18 turnovers.
“We got very careless with the ball in transition,” Kerr said.
His team then recorded seven turnovers in the opening quarter Monday, one shy of the most in a first quarter since Kerr took over in 2014.
Then the Warriors calmed down, tallying just eight turnovers in the final three quarters.
“We just had to be a little more patient with our movement and let it kind of happen,” Durant said. “And it happened in the third quarter for us.”
The Spurs needed a dynamite performance from Aldridge after he scored just 14 points in Game 1 and was handcuffed by Warriors center JaVale McGee, who held Aldridge to 2-of-8 shooting as his primary defender.
Aldridge turned the tide immediately on Monday, making four of his first five shots when matched up with McGee. He scored 17 points in the first half, signaling success for the Spurs, as they entered the evening with a 10-1 record when Aldridge scored 17 or more points before halftime, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
Aldridge kept muscling his way to the basket in the second half, registering his seventh career playoff game with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. But when his teammates fired from deep, they kept coming up short, including on many uncontested looks.
“We’re not going to roll over,” Aldridge said. “We’ve got to take the mentality that we had tonight, trying to take the fight to them.”
Said Ginobili, “We got to take this type of completion and edge as a baseline. Without that, we have not even a minor chance. Then, hopefully, we shoot a little better and they shoot a little poorer. They got to help us a little bit. We are not favorites in this series. There’s a reason they are 2[-seed] and we are 7.”