OAKLAND, Calif. -- Fans expecting an epic showdown between the NBA's best got a treat Thursday night, when the San Antonio Spurs, who traditionally rest players once postseason seeding is secured, opted to utilize their core group against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.
The Spurs went with their usual starting five Thursday: Tony Parker and Danny Green in the backcourt, with forwards Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge and center Tim Duncan. Even at full strength, however, San Antonio was dominated most of the night and fell to the Warriors 112-101.
Coach Gregg Popovich has said on numerous occasions that he wants to strike a balance between resting players and being careful not to decondition them while maintaining their rhythm heading into the postseason.
Having rested the entire roster for significant stretches lately, he said playing the core group Thursday would enhance the team's chances of maintaining momentum and rhythm heading into the postseason.
"Everybody's going to play," Popovich confirmed about 90 minutes before tipoff. "It has really nothing to do with who we're playing. It's about the minutes. We check minutes all year long, the minutes that they've had during the season. [With] the back-to-backs, the schedule recently, we just rested some guys about a week, week-and-a-half ago. At this point, you want to have that rest. We're an older team. But at the same time, sure, we worry about deconditioning and rhythm just like everybody talks about."
The team got a scare late in the first quarter, when Aldridge dislocated the pinkie finger on his right hand. He briefly left the game to get the finger taped but returned to the court for the second quarter.
Popovich even substituted Parker, Aldridge, Leonard and Green back into the game in the fourth, which began with San Antonio trailing by 18. Duncan sat out the fourth and played 19 minutes, but the four other starters played around 30 minutes, led by Leonard, who played 35 minutes and finished with a team-high 23 points.
The Spurs and Warriors play again Sunday in San Antonio, and Popovich indicated that he would play his regulars for that game too.
"When Golden State comes back to us, we'll play that game [in] full also because we're going to sit everybody in Denver [on Friday]," Popovich said. "We don't want to sit them two nights in a row going into the playoffs. That doesn't make much sense, so that's how it came about. No matter who we're playing tomorrow, we'd sit them -- doesn't matter. The opponent is not the thing. It's about minutes and time managed and all that sort of stuff."
Parker said he expected Popovich to rest key players during Monday's 88-86 win over the Utah Jazz, but Popovich utilized the majority of the roster, and five players scored in double figures: Leonard, Aldridge, Manu Ginobili and Kyle Anderson.
Up until that game, Popovich had rested all of his veterans at some point during the previous two weeks. Here's a snapshot of how that worked:
Mar. 26: Popovich rested Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Aldridge in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, in addition to holding Leonard out as he recovered from the quadriceps injury.
Mar. 28: Duncan, Parker and Ginobili continued to rest while Leonard sat out another contest due to the quadriceps injury. Veteran power forward David West suited up but didn't play in the team's win at Memphis.
Apr. 5: The trio of Miller, Martin and Marjanovic rested again in the team's win at Utah. A day prior, the Spurs announced Diaw would miss due to right adductor soreness. The team left Diaw in San Antonio for this latest three-game road trip and will re-evaluate him in advance of Sunday's game against the Warriors.