Gregg Popovich is an all-time great coach in the NBA, but even he knows the potency of Golden State‘s historically great offense.
The Warriors and San Antonio Spurs tip-off Sunday at 3:30 to get the Western Conference Finals underway. On paper, it’s supposed to be a bloodbath. Golden State made quick work of the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz is the first two rounds, while San Antonio played two six-game series against the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets.
Popovich told the Associated Press that the only thing his Spurs can do to slow down the Warriors is “pray.”
Against the Jazz, who arguably have the best defense in the league, Golden State posted an offensive rating of 116.1 points per 100 possessions and averaged 111 points a night on 48.4 percent shooting overall and 35.3 percent from three. They picked Utah apart for four-straight games. The Warriors’ sustained their offense by religiously moving the ball, and it’s hard to slow down a squad that’s consistently handing out 27 or more dimes.
At times against Houston, San Antonio’s defense looked lost. In the series opener, they got blown out 126-99. Then, in Game 4, the Rockets waxed them again, 125-104. The Spurs won the last two games of the series thanks to a mixture of both offense and defense, but their suffocating performance in Game 6 reminded us that they could bottle up even the most lethal teams.
The Rockets and Warriors run different offenses that have some similarities, but Golden State’s is far more unpredictable than Houston’s. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green love nothing more than moving the rock and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson running around multiple screens and wearing down defenders is prayer-inducing. Based on what happened in the regular season, the Spurs have a chance. The two met three times, but one of them was the infamous Saturday night primetime game that had all the stars resting.
San Antonio won in dominating fashion, 107-85. The one thing to take away from that meeting is how deep the Spurs are, and that could be the Warriors lone Achilles’ heel this series. The other two meeting were also blowouts — the Spurs by 29 in the season-opener and Golden State by 12 on Mar. 29. Golden State’s only win came during Durant’s injury. That’s when they started putting everything together, and it appeared that their offense didn’t have a single flaw. Once Durant came back, he took them to the next level.
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What a lot of the Spurs’ opponents have done is find a way to isolate Leonard. Whoever he guards, that man gets as far from the action as possible, and the league’s best perimeter defender isn’t able to have as huge an impact. Regardless of whether Kawhi guards Durant, Thompson, Green or whoever, the Warriors’ offense has no problem running with them out of the play, and even though the Spurs defense is collectively solid, it hurts anytime your best defender isn’t around to help.
That one wrinkle isn’t enough to lose the series, but it could create a snowball effect.
Where San Antonio sort of “lucked out” is with — believe it or not — Tony Parker‘s injury. He wasn’t getting many minutes anyway, but having him chase around one of the NBA’s premier point guards is a tall order for an aging guard who was never a great defender to being with. Dejounte Murray was Pop’s immediate replacement once Parker went down with injury, and he’s a far better option to run around with Curry. Murray isn’t a lockdown defender, but he’s long and athletic enough to hassle Steph. All the Spurs can do is make his life hard, and that’s something neither Utah nor Portland was able to do.
An additional prayer is going to have to be said for Green, whose offense has finally come alive. The rest of the NBA lucked out this season because Draymond was a scoring liability. He was still a great playmaker, but his shooting fell off from last year, and it got to the point where you’d take your chances having him beat you opposed to everyone else.
Now, Green’s found his stroke. In the playoffs, he’s shooting 50 percent from the field and 51.2 percent from three while chipping in 14.9 points. If I had to guess, Jonathon Simmons is going to spend a majority of his time on Green. The size of the two are about equal, and Simmons is a hard-nosed defender who has impressed with his play on that end of the court. Frankly, it might be the most fun matchup to watch this series.
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The Blazers and Jazz just don’t compare to the Spurs. Therefore, expecting this series to be another cakewalk for the Warriors is silly. It may go four games or it may go seven, but I don’t expect all of them to be blowouts. San Antonio is an elite defense that has an elite offense ran by the NBA’s third-best player. With that said, the Warriors have the tools to matchup from top to bottom, and also have an elite defense with an elite offense powered by four All-Stars.
This has all the makings of a slugfest. And I hope it turns out that way.
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