Golden State Warriors and San Antonio are not only the best two teams in the NBA this season, but the last three seasons. Somehow, the audience was denied an opportunity to watch a head-to-head playoff series between them, until now. The Warriors will face the ultimate test, a perennial contending team the look to mimic, but can’t afford to slip and regress one step before the last year, not with the best roster in the league. On the other hand, this might be the last true ride for some of the Spurs veterans and they won’t come into the Finals thinking that there’s always the next year.
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #2 San Antonio Spurs
The Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs have played only three games this season, but neither of those game is a good measuring stick to compare the teams. The Spurs won twice, on the opening day of the season, and the other time when the Warriors opted to rest the entire starting lineup. The most recent meeting was cleanly taken by the Warriors, but not before the Spurs built a 20-point lead in the first half.
Regular season results:
10/25/16 GSW 100 – SAS 129
03/11/17 SAS 107 – GSW 85
03/29/17 SAS 98 – GSW 110
San Antonio was favored only in the second encounter, the one that marked the final game of the Warriors post All-Star struggles, when the visitors opted to swipe the board by sitting out Curry, Thompson and Green alongside injured Durant, while the hosts played sans Parker and Leonard. It was the only game that has gone to under, while the other two topped the projected lines.
The Warriors have earned the home court advantage, so the first two games will be played in California. With the sweep over the Utah Jazz, the Warriors have full week to rest and prepare, while the Spurs only have two days. The outcome of the series is currently blurred by the recent ankle injury of the Spurs’ main guy Kawhi Leonard. San Antonio will also have to play without Tony Parker, who’s out for the season after tearing a quad tendon in the semis.
Playoff results and schedule:
Game 1 – SAS @ GSW (Sunday 5/14/17, 3:30 PM ET – ABC)
Game 2 – SAS @ GSW (Tuesday 5/16/17, 9:00 PM ET – ESPN )
Game 3 – GSW @ SAS (Saturday 5/20/17, 9:00 PM ET – ESPN)
Game 4 – GSW @ SAS (Monday 5/22/17, 9:00 PM ET – ESPN)
Game 5 – SAS @ GSW (Wednesday 5/24/17, 9:00 PM ET – ESPN, if needed)
Game 6 – GSW @ SAS (Friday 5/26/17, 9:00 PM ET – ESPN, if needed)
Game 7 – SAS @ GSW (Sunday 5/28/17, 9:00 PM ET – ESPN, if needed)
Warriors in the rear-view mirror
8-0. That’s the Golden State Warriors record in the postseason. After disposing of the Trail Blazers, the Warriors wasted no time in sending the Utah Jazz packing for the vacation season. They have earned plenty of time to practice, relax and prepare for the upcoming rivals. But even more important, they’ve used the two series to get their mojo back. The aura of invincibility has returned are being absent for most of the season, despite the dominant display during almost every month. The main reason for it is the much improved offensive play of Draymond Green.
During the regular season, Green shot 41.8 percent from the field and 30.8 percent on 3-pointers to score a measly 10.2 points per game. The offense goes through him often enough so he was able to collect 7.0 assists, paired with an acceptable 2.4 turnovers. Let’s compare those numbers to the postseason contribution. Green is shooting 50.0 percent from the field, 51.2(!) percent from beyond the arc, and averages 14.9 points. His assists are up (7.3) and turnovers down (1.8). On top of the increased offensive stats, he managed to flip the go into another gear on the defensive end as well. He is playing good and he is feeling good and being as vocal and emotional as he is, it has transmitted over to the entire team. Golden State is scary good right now.
The Warriors are far more than just their power forward, of course. Curry has a steady 27.1 point, 6 assist postseason, and Durant has been equally great in the games he played in. Thompson has hit some dry spells shooting the ball, so his numbers regressed a bit, and Iguodala is more and more unreliable option on the offense. A bench player that had thrived was JaVale McGee, enjoying the extra space to operate while the opposing defenses focus on stopping the main Golden State arsenal of scorers.
The Warriors are winning by 16.5 points in the playoffs as they score 115.3 points on 48.4 percent shooting and allow 98.8 points to opponent field goal percentage of just 40.7 percent.
Golden State Warriors Betting Trends:
ATS Score: 45-42-3 overall, 5-3 playoffs
Over/under Score: 37-53 overall, 5-3 playoffs
Spurs in the rear-view mirror
The San Antonio Spurs haven’t been as dominant as the Warriors. Granted, advancing past a very good Houston team shouldn’t be taken lightly, and they overcome two very different opponents and injury issues to two NBA Finals MVPs to reach this stage. As it turns out, a team that can play both good offense and good defense can beat a team that plays only one side of the court. That has been the strongest Spurs trump this season. They play each possession with the same intensity, don’t beat themselves even on the poor shooting nights or if the opposition gets hot. Their discipline is second to none, whether it reflects in keeping their hands away from Harden’s arm movement or in feeding the mismatch and keeping the basketball simple and effective.
They are unwavered by the losses and gracious in victories, always looking to play the correct way, and this culture has enabled them to interchange players seemingly without any detriment to their play. Kawhi Leonard, their star forward, embodies this philosophy. He is probably the best two way player in the league right now, so the Spurs sometimes get caught in forcing/allowing him to do more than they should, for good or for bad. It’s truly a shame if he is going to play limited with the ankle sprain that has forced him to miss series decider against the Houston Rockets, but even with the possibly best player in the league, Spurs’ next-man-up mentality guarantees that the Spurs will not going to quit pursuing another title.
Against the Rockets, it was LaMarcus Aldridge, a star of his own back in the days, and Patty Mills, stepping in for injured Tony Parker. Even Manu Ginobili dusted off some year long dust and came up big when his team needed him the most. The Spurs have many veterans who know how to win and play, so they won’t be intimidated by the Dubs.
After all, San Antonio is still the third best team in the playoffs, winning by an average margin of 6.7 points. They have scored 106.6 points on 47.3 percent shooting and allowed 99.9 points to the opposition. Giving up under 100 points per game is even more impressive when you consider two overtime games. Spurs rivals shot at 43.6 percent rate this postseason.
San Antonio Spurs Betting Trends:
ATS Score: 48-44-2 overall, 7-5 playoffs
Over/under Score: 52-40-2 overall, 9-3 playoffs
Matching them up
The Warriors create matchup problems for practically every team in the league. It’s part of who they are and also why they were so successful in the last three years. The Spurs, with all their quality and a Hall of Fame head coach aren’t better than the most. Historically, coach Popovich played with two bigs more often, downsizing only out of necessity. With the Golden State Warriors playing 4 or five guys on the outside and using the space in the paint for cutting and redirecting their offense, the Spurs are surely going to be thrown of their defensive schemes and rotations.
Aldridge and Gasol did an excellent job using their size against the small lineups of the Rockets, but the Warriors are just planting shooters along the three point line, so it will be tough to play them both, especially considering that the Warriors would not be troubled by the pair as Green’s versatility on the defensive side allows them to stay with the same lineup no matter whom they are playing against. The Golden State Warriors don’t like Thompson’s and Durant’s matchups as the Spurs can put Green and Leonard at those two – no other team in the league can match this kind of defensive pressure on the Warriors’ wings.
Golden State rarely plays much pick and roll, but they might want to try to force cross matching with Curry and Durant. It’s more of a hero ball, so they’ll probably utilize it only in the close endings of the games. The Spurs will look to build on the Aldridge’s regained confidence and do more isos for him, to lessen the burden on the banged up Leonard they will have to play both sides of the court.
Golden State in 5. The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to advance to the third consecutive NBA Finals, and rightfully so. Not only they have the talent, the confidence and the experience to do so, but are also more rested and more healthy than the opposition. I don’t believe they are going to sweep again, but it’s not going to be a long series either.
Stephen Curry. Curry has been playing almost a third fiddle in this playoffs and much of the regular season, but it’s time for him to shine. The Spurs can’t afford to throw the Leonard-monster at him, and are generally prone to dribble 3-point shots, so look for Curry to punish them each time they pack the paint. Mills can’t stay with him on the drives either, so it’s likely that this series revolves around number 30.
Jonathan Simmons. With the games likely to feature more small lineups, the Spurs will turn to their unheralded sub Jonathan Simmons, who admirable stepped in to completely thwart Harden in the decisive game 6 of the Semifinals series. If Simmons can replicate that level of performance versus the Golden State Warriors, this series might last longer than most of us expect.
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