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Warriors Thump Spurs In 2018 Playoff Opener

2018 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 92, Golden State 113
Golden State leads series 1-0

That went about as poorly as possible.

In a rematch of the very lopsided 2017 Western Conference Finals, the two teams looked like they were playing Game 5 of that series, rather than Game 1 of a  new series from a new season. Once again, the Spurs looked completely lost and inept on both ends of the ball without their star player, Kawhi Leonard.

The Warriors–coming off of a very sluggish finish to the season–faced no resistance on offense, putting up an easy 113 points. The one semi-consistent variable of the Spurs’ season was their team defense, and it was absolutely abysmal in Game 1 (when the game actually mattered, at least). What is really baffling is it looks likes the Spurs completely changed their scheme against the Warriors to a switch-heavy system where every player 1-4 switched everything no matter what. (This is similar to what the Rockets are doing this season.)

This might be an effective strategy against the Warriors, but it’s way too much to ask a team to completely change its core defensive principles in Game 83 of the season. The point of the regular season is to build and ingrain good habits, so that when it really matters, the players react instinctively. If too much thinking is involved, mistakes are made, time is wasted, and players begin to second-guess things.

It was quite evident that the Spurs just weren’t comfortable with this scheme. In the first quarter, the Warriors got plenty of open looks at the rim and from the 3-point line, abusing the Spurs poor execution of their defensive scheme. The switching also resulted in too many mismatches, with Kevin Durant being guarded by Patty Mills, for example. The Warriors are not afraid to exploit those mismatches.

Another big factor here was the Warriors changing their starting line-up, inserting Andre Iguodala as the “point guard”, essentially going to a big and interchangeable lineup with no traditional PG. The Spurs started with their “small” lineup, which has been very effective in the latter portion of the season.

The main problem with this lineup is that there is nobody for Mills to guard. He is too small to cover any player except an opposing PG or the occasional smaller 2-Guard. Unfortuantely, the Warriors have a very big (and very good) 2-Guard in Klay Thompson. Without a PG on the court, every match-up was a mismatch for Mills, and the Warriors happily exploited this by shooting over him or bullying him in the post, depending on who he ended up on.

On the other end of the court, the Warriors bullied the Spurs out of the paint and made every simple action difficult. This is where the memories of last season’s series came back most vividly. The Warriors defense, when locked in, makes the Spurs offense look bad. Every pass is a struggle, every pick and roll seems to lead nowhere (or worse, deeper into the defense), and every shot is difficult and guarded. Nothing comes easy, and the Spurs’ offense needs easy points from somewhere.

If you watched the first quarter of this game having never seen the Spurs play before (but knowing basketball), you would think that Patty Mills was our star guard. Every action seemed to revolve around him in some way, and the ball was in his hands way too much. Patty isn’t good enough to create his own offense against average defenses, let alone one as good as a locked-in Warriors defense.

This isn’t to pick on Patty. He’s very good at what he does. He is just being asked to do something other than that, and he won’t succeed. Without another actual guard on the floor, Patty probably shouldn’t play. Which mean he might have to come off the bench to match minutes with Quinn Cook, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young.

LaMarcus Aldridge also had a really tough outing, again recalling the ghosts of 2017. I hope this series doesn’t negatively color what was a tremendous season for him. This match-up is just bad for him, especially with no other great offensive talent to shift focus away from him and give him space to work. If you’re going to run the offense through Aldridge in the post, you need at least 3 other shooters out there on the floor. In the starting line-up, there are only two other shooters out there, making it too easy for the Warriors to shut down the post.

If you’re an astute observer, you’ve already seen one big issue here. If you need shooters on the floor with Aldridge, but you can’t start Patty against this lineup, where do you go?

The honest answer: I don’t know. This is where we start to reach the limits of the Spurs lineup. I think it’s obvious that Rudy Gay needs to start, as he was perhaps the best Spurs player on the floor in this game (him or Manu Ginobili, because of course our best player would be a 40-year-old).

Beyond that, I don’t have a good answer. Davis Bertans might be effective, and could match the Warriors “big” lineup with only one actual big player. But to throw Bertans out there now seems untenable. You could go back to Pau Gasol. He struggles against the Warriors, the Warriors tend to crush our two-big traditional lineups, and he struggled in Game 1. But at least he can shoot the 3. Bryn Forbes? He’s not much bigger than Patty, and not much of a better shooter. Manu? That might actually be the best answer.

And if the answer to the question is a 40-year-old shooting guard, you’ve probably already lost.

I know there’s a desire to pin this on Coach Pop. He didn’t really seem to adjust, and didn’t seem to prepare the team well. He apparently implemented a new defense with one day of practice.

Plenty of this loss is on him. But, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on the starting lineup issues. By the time he knew the Warriors had changed their starting lineup, he probably still wanted to see how his new wrinkles would play out. The game got away from him early, and maybe he knew this one was lost early. So he stuck with the game plan and took the loss, knowing the team just needs one of these first two.

If we don’t see adjustments in Game 2, though, I think it’s safe to say that the team doesn’t really believe they can win this series. They’ll continue to play hard, of course, and play for each other. But we have enough data to know that it isn’t working. Things need to change.

Game 2 is Monday night. Here’s hoping we see a “different” Spurs squad.

Go Spurs Go.

Spurs Dynasty Podcast – Episode 33

In the latest SDP, Stephen and Trace preview the Spurs first round matchup with Golden State and discuss:

  • the Spurs-Warriors regular season series
  • whether Steph Curry’s injuries give the Spurs a better chance of winning? (Spoiler: yes.)
  • can LaMarcus Aldridge win this series on his own?
  • will the Spurs role players step and create scoring opportunities?
  • what will the Warriors do to create chaos, offensively and defensively?
  • can the Spurs defense slow down the Warriors offense enough?

Subscribe to the SDP on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher and TuneIn.

And write us a review so you can help others find us. Thanks.

Go Spurs Go!

Spurs End Regular Season With Road Loss In New Orleans

Season 51, Game 82
San Antonio 98, New Orleans 122
47-35, 7th in the West

A road win to end the regular season was probably too much to ask from this Spurs team; but was not getting blown out too tall of an order?

In a word: yes. This team continued its futility on the road, more or less giving up the game by halftime in New Orleans, along with it any chance of a higher seed or possible home court. (The way the final games ended up, I think a win would have only put them in the 6-seed, so not too much was lost.)

The Spurs’ complete futility on the road this season is utterly baffling. Do you remember the last road win? That would be February 25th in Cleveland. They come into the playoffs with 8 straight losses and having not won on the road in almost 50 days. Before the win in Cleveland they had lost their 4 previous road games. So for those keeping track at home, that’s a sterling record of 1-12 in their last 13 road games, dating back to February 10th.

More fun facts from the road: the Spurs ended the season 14-27 on the road, the worst road record of any team in the playoffs by a full 3 games (the Timberwolves are next with 17 road wins).

Some notable road wins this season:

–The Miami Heat on October 25th, a whopping 17-point win against a playoff team.
–A 2-point win against Portland on December 20th.
–The aforementioned win in Cleveland.

That’s it; those are the team’s only road wins against other playoff teams.

On the flip side, the team is damn near elite at home. They finished the season 33-8 at home. The only two teams better? The Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors (both at 34-7), the top two teams in each conference. Only three other teams in the entire NBA even had 30 home wins: the Timberwolves, the Nuggets, and the 76ers.

The team ended the season with 11 straight home wins, dating back to the beginning of March. And these aren’t bad teams; they had wins over the Warriors, the Rockets, the Pelicans, the Timberwolves, the Wizards, the Jazz, the Thunder, and the Blazers. That’s 8 playoff teams.

The Spurs are basically a 1-seed at home and a lottery-team on the road. They haven’t lost at home in over a month and haven’t won on the road in nearly two.

Which leads us to the playoffs. The pessimist’s take: if you can’t win on the road and you’re the lower seed, what chance do you have? The optimist’s take: if you’re unbeatable at home, all you have to do is find a way to steal a game on the road to get the upset.

Most Spurs’ fans are (rightfully) in the pessimist’s camp. But there’s reason for optimism, because the Spurs opponent is the Golden State Warriors.

Yes, they are the defending champs. Yes, they’ve given the Spurs fits over the last few years in ways both dominating and heartbreaking. There’s no reason to give the Spurs any sort of chance, particularly with how inconsistent the team has been all year and how impotent their offense has generally been.

But this isn’t “The Warriors”. This is a team also struggling with injuries to their most important (if not best) player. This is a team struggling to find consistency and rhythm at the end of the season, going a meager 7-10 in the final stretch of games with some bad losses. This is a team who have been to 3 straight finals, who had no motivation during the regular season, and who are hoping to “flip the switch”.

If ever a team was ripe for an unexpected upset, it’s these Warriors.

Unfortunately, the Spurs are probably the team least-equipped to pull off that upset. But the chance still remains. If the Spurs can remain elite at home, they can easily push this to a 6 or 7 game series. All they need to do, then, is steal one of those road games, a seemingly impossible task.

But I remember March 8th, the night the Spurs lost in Oakland to the Warriors. Steph Curry left the game early with injury, and the Spurs faltered in the final minutes to lose the game by 3. But it was there for them to take. A few bounces go a different way, and the Spurs win that game. I look to that game because it featured basically the exact same rosters each team will enter the playoffs with. That night, the Spurs proved they can compete against the Warriors on the road. That’s all we can ask for: competitive spirit.

There’s little reason for optimism, but there’s plenty of reason for hope.

The Spurs and Warriors open the 2018 NBA Playoffs Saturday afternoon.

Go Spurs Go.

Spurs Dynasty Podcast – Episode 32

Subscribe to the SDP on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher and TuneIn.

And write us a review so you can help others find us. Thanks.

Go Spurs Go!

Spurs Clinch Playoff Berth With Victory Over Kings

Season 51, Game 81
San Antonio 98, Sacramento 85
47-34, 6th in the West

In October, if you’d told me that all the Spurs needed to do to secure a playoff berth was beat the Kings at home, I’d have shrugged my shoulders and assumed you were talking about some random home game in March.

If you’d then told me that it was actually Game 81 and the win–and the playoffs–were in jeopardy, I would’ve assumed the worst.

And the worst did happen, sports-wise. The Spurs lost their best player (for all intents and purposes) for the whole season. A roster built around the supreme talents of one player suddenly became a collection of unproven role players, past-their-prime veterans, and one star with a game built around an antiquated mode of playing.

It was a tough season by Spurs’ fans standards, and Monday’s win over the Kings kind of encapsulates all of it. The team was really unable to generate any chemistry or momentum until the fourth quarter, and had to be bailed out by their 40-year-old “star” who still probably plays with more passion than any other player on the team.

The win didn’t necessarily inspire any confidence, but it wasn’t a nail-biter. It was fine. This team is fine. This season was fine.

“Fine” is a tough sell to us spoiled Spurs’ followers.

LaMarcus Aldridge had a rare game in which he struggled. Luckily Rudy Gay, Manu Ginobili, and Bryn Forbes helped to pick up the scoring slack. The team picked up the defense in the second half, holding the Kings to an anemic 35 points in the final 24 minutes. What finally secured the win, though, was the team deciding to play some offense, exploding for 38 in the fourth quarter, after managing  60 in the preceding three.

The game secured the team’s passage to it’s unprecedented 21st straight playoffs. We shouldn’t take that for granted, but we will. The team’s consistency for decades is remarkable, and only helps to underscore how unrecognizable a good (or, as others might say, “fine”) season is to us. This is/was a good season. To listen to us talk about it, you’d believe otherwise.

Now we wait to find out the team’s final spot in the Western Conference hierarchy, with any seed from 4 to 8 possible. If the team beats New Orleans on the final day of the season, I believe they can do no worse than 6th. If they lose, I believe they can do no better than 7.

We won’t know for certain until the final buzzer sounds late Wednesday night. The last time the Spurs closed the season in New Orleans, it ended in disappointment and presaged an early playoff exit. Here’s hoping for a better result this close of season.

Go Spurs Go.

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