A major storyline heading into the 2018 NBA playoffs, was whether the Golden State Warriors' championship reign was in danger. Golden State had lost 6 of their last 10 heading into yesterday afternoon's Game 1 at the Oracle Arena. Four of those losses came by double-digits, culminating with a 40-point drubbing at the hands of the Utah Jazz.
Patty Mills and the San Antonio Spurs have had to make do with the bizarre absence of their MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, who missed all but nine games on the season with a quad issue. With no real indication on whether or not Leonard would be returning in the playoffs, the Spurs came in regardless, ready to place further doubts in the minds of the Warriors.
Patty Mills started for San Antonio, but it was all Golden State early, as their defense ratcheted up the pressure early, not giving an inch whilst quickly running up a double digit lead.
A catalyst for Golden State was the surprise move from Steve Kerr to insert Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup. Making the move even more incredible, the five-man lineup of Iguodala, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Javale McGee had not played a single minute together on the season before yesterday.
The Spurs never really got back into the game, as the reigning champions held them at arm's length through the entire game. San Antonio finished the night shooting 40 percent from the field, whilst recording only 19 assists. For comparison, the Warriors shot 54 percent on field goals, and assisted on 32 of their made baskets.
The lineup adjustment Kerr made appeared to hamper Mills the most, as the Warriors' added size and length smothered Mills at every turn. It wasn't just the offensive end where Patty found life difficult. He often found himself out of position defensively, notably getting caught defending Kevin Durant in isolation, a player he gives up nine inches to.
In 27 minutes, Mills mustered five points on 2-for-5 from the field, well down on his season average of ten points per game.
His typical offensive aggression was subdued as well. Mills, who averaged 8.3 attempts during the regular season, and 8.8 during the last postseason, only took the shot 5 times in this game.
When asked about the start to the contest after the game, a typically blunt Gregg Popovich commented, "We looked like deer [caught] in the headlights."
In an unfortunate yet humorous moment, a reporter asked an innocent question about his retrospective thoughts on placing Danny Green on Kevin Durant. "Did you watch the game? What do you think? Didn't work very well.
"We'll have Danny grow four or five inches by Monday night, tell him to jump higher and move quicker, and we'll tell Kevin, 'Don't be so good.'"
Kerr on the other hand was full of praise for his squad stepping up to their accustomed level of play under the playoff spotlight. "I thought it was important to re-establish our defense, one way or another, win or lose.
"That's the reason this is a championship team. It's the defense that has been the key for this team for years."
If Mills and the Spurs intend on clawing their way back into the series, adjustments will be need to be made. After Game 1, it looks like it could be a very one-sided contest.
Patty Mills and the San Antonio Spurs play the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, 1230hrs AEST, 17 April 2018.