Even without Curry, Warriors well-stocked for series with Spurs
NBA.com Global on Apr 13, 2018 06:27 PM
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 20: Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs passes the ball during the game against the Golden State Warriors during Game Three of the Western Conference Finals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 20, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. (Photos by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
By Shaun Powell, NBA.com
This would have the makings of one of the most interesting No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchups in NBA history if Spurs star Kawhi Leonard were ready to play. But alas, that doesn’t appear to be the case (although he hasn’t been ruled out of the series yet). As you might recall, this is a rematch of the 2017 Western Conference finals, when Zaza Pachulia had an interesting collision with Leonard midway through Game 1, causing him to re-injure an ankle and knock him out for the series.
It hasn’t been the same since for Leonard, out with a quad injury since Jan. 13 (Jan. 14, PHL time), or the Spurs, who failed to win their customary 50 games and found themselves fighting for a playoff spot almost until the very end. The Spurs are the only team to twice post multiple wins over the Warriors in the same season in the Steve Kerr era. Well, the Warriors might be missing Stephen Curry and looked uninspired down the stretch. But without Leonard, the Spurs are missing so much more.
3 quick questions and answers
1. Are the Warriors really vulnerable or just playing us? Perhaps the latter. Once they lost Curry in early March, health became paramount and there was no need to engage Houston for the No. 1 seed. That meant the regular season lost some of its importance to Golden State. They went 7-10 down the stretch this season, were No. 17 in Defensive Rating during that stretch and Kerr went nuts. But we likely won’t know if Golden State is truly wobbly until another playoff round at least.
2. Who’ll ride shotgun for the Spurs in this series? Nobody, actually. LaMarcus Aldridge really didn’t have an offensive co-star -- the No. 2 scorer, Rudy Gay, averages almost 12 fewer points -- and nobody is really capable of pulling that share of a load consistently. The Spurs must score by committee, use their defense and make fewer mistakes, which they’re capable of doing. That’s their only hope of extending this series.
3. Can Gregg Popovich devise anything that’ll make Kerr sweat? If any coach can roust the best from a hamstrung team and toss in a few surprises, it’s Popovich. Plus, the Spurs play the Warriors tough at home. But again, Popovich is working with aging vets (Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker) and also Aldridge, who had a dreadful series against the Warriors after Leonard was lost. The playoffs demand stars. Unless Leonard suits up, Pop has likely met his match.
The number to know
54 percent -- With Stephen Curry on the floor this season, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson had a combined effective field goal percentage of 64 percent. With Curry off the floor this season, Durant and Thompson had a combined effective field goal percentage of just 54 percent. Curry himself had the highest effective field goal percentage among non-centers who attempted at least 500 shots this season, but his effect on the Warriors' offense is about more than just his own shots. The attention he draws from the defense makes things easier for his teammates. With Durant and Thompson on the floor, the Warriors scored 122 points per 100 possessions in 939 minutes with Curry also on the floor, but just 108 per 100 in 750 minutes with Curry off the floor. Though they had Kawhi Leonard for just nine games, the Spurs were a top-five defensive team for the sixth straight season. And their opponent will be easier to defend for as long as Curry is unavailable. -- John Schuhmann
Making the pick
Forget, for now, what you saw the last few raggedy weeks from Golden State. The Warriors have an incredible and healthy core of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Durant, in particular, is made for this situation and is by far the best player on the floor. That, along with home court advantage, could make this series get out of hand. Warriors in 5.
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