Shooting at the Walls of Heartache: Spurs-Warriors Preview
On Monday night the Spurs and Warriors tip off their 2nd round series.
The Spurs are overwhelming favorites, and should be. They have most things working in their favor: home court advantage, experience, poise, talent, and probably even desire. Still, no team makes it to the second round by accident, and this Warriors team can be particularly dangerous, particularly in Oakland, and particularly from the hand of Steph Curry, perhaps the scariest shooter the league has ever seen.
There were a couple stretches in the Golden State-Denver series when I couldn’t believe what I was watching from Curry. He had some 6 minute flurries in a couple of those games that rival anything I have ever seen. 20+ point outbursts, insane shot-making and play-making, single-handedly turning the game (and by extension, the series) on its head and in the Warrior’s favor. At any point in any game, he is a threat to go on one of these hyper-deadly scoring binges.
But the Spurs have a little bit of history with superlative guards that do the heavy lifting for their teams, and they always find a way to stop them. One might even argue that this is the kind of defensive scheme the Spurs are best at. Think of all the heartache we’ve hoisted upon Steve Nash and Chris Paul throughout the years. I think we can use those two as a guide for how we might go about defending Curry.
The book on Paul and Nash was always let them shoot, let them score, but don’t let them get the rest of the team going. While it seems counterintuitive, I think the same strategy is best with Curry. He can shoot from anywhere, under any coverage, and make the shot. But he averages just over 20 ppg. Say he has a great game and scores 30. That’s still about 70 points shy of beating the Spurs. From watching the Denver series, Curry is most deadly after the shots start falling and he is able to create for the rest of his team off of the extra attention he receives. I think his passing is very underrated (probably because his shooting is so good), and he has wonderful court vision. Not quite at Nash or Paul level, but not as far as you might think. I think Pop will give him the Nash treatment: guard him one-on-one, probably starting with Green, and let him get his shots and his points. But under no circumstances let him get his team involved. If he scores 30 points but only hands out 4 assists, the defense has won. If he scores 20 but hands out 12 assists, we’re in trouble.
I think Green will get the majority of the time guarding him, and he has proven that he does well guarding PGs. Parker will shift to Thompson to start, which shouldn’t hurt us as he is mostly a spot-up shooter at this point. We’ll also have Leonard, Ginobili, and Joseph (I’m particularly excited to see this match-up) to throw at Curry.
One of the key line-up changes the Warriors made against Denver was going small, putting Harrison Barnes at the 4, and speeding up the game. I hope the Warriors try this against the Spurs. Barnes, there’s a player I’d like you to meet; his name is Kawhi Leonard. Have fun.
One of the underrated things about this Spurs team is their ability to play most any style. We can go small, big, slow it down, speed it up, etc, etc. We have shooters, bangers, hustle guys, and veteran leaders. Outside of Curry, I don’t think there’s a single position where we don’t have an advantage.
Plus, the Warriors rely heavily on a couple of rookies and second-year players.
There’s a lot being made about the insane winning streak the Spurs have against the Warriors in San Antonio. While numbers like this can be a bit deceiving (nobody from this Warriors team has experienced more than 5 of these games, save for Biendrins, who doesn’t play any more), I think there is some merit to the fact that the Warriors have never beaten Duncan in San Antonio. That’s crazy.
I think the larger point here is that the Spurs greatest weapon in this series is poise, experience, and execution. The Warriors are exciting to watch, but they get really tight at the end of close games, a bit sloppy, and careless. In Game 6 against Denver, they did everything short of shooting on their own basket to give that game to the Nuggets; lucky for them, the Nuggets wanted no part of it. But against the Spurs, late game mental and execution errors are going to cost them dearly. The Spurs won’t wilt under the moment; the Warriors might. They didn’t so much beat Denver in Game 6 as Denver lost that game; do you see the Spurs doing the same thing?
The Warriors upset the Nuggets in Round 1, have exceeded expectations for their season, and were clearly thrilled with their playoff victory. Everything else from here on out is gravy. The Spurs are just entering Phase II of a 4-part process. While I like this Warriors team and enjoy watching them play, I think the Spurs will just be too much for them.
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