The Western Conference Finals between the Warriors and the Spurs are set to start. Here are five things to watch out for.
I’ve been waiting for this one. Finally, a best of seven series, in the Western Conference Finals no less, against these two juggernauts. The San Antonio Spurs just spent the last six games shutting down the Houston Rocket’s high-octane offense, but the Warriors are a different beast. They’re a record-setting, just added an MVP, haven’t lost yet in the playoffs, kind of beast. Everything must go right if the Spurs are to have a shot of advancing to the Finals. Still, the Spurs have proven that time and time again someone on their team will step up when needed. Here are five questions to keep in mind when watching the Warriors-Spurs series.
How Healthy, Or Good, Is Kawhi Leonard?
Kawhi Leonard sprained his left ankle in Game 5 against the Rockets and was left unable to finish the game. He was also out for Game 6, although the Spurs trounced the Rockets by 39 points anyway. But the Spurs will need him at full strength here. He is by far their best and most consistent offensive player. In Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, he did what every kid, including me, dreamed of doing and pulled off his best Kobe impression by rattled off 16 straight points late in a playoff game, including this bonkers shot.
The Spurs lost, but it’s the kind of performance he will need to repeat multiple times. The Warriors are a brilliant defensive team and a dynamic offensive one, and if the Spurs are going to slow them down going to Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge in isolation might be a potential strategy.
Can LaMarcus Aldridge Go On A Roll?
Speaking of Aldridge, he will have to dominate the Warriors inside. He’s had a pretty mediocre playoffs for a player of his caliber (for how much people have been complaining about his time on the Spurs he’s been just fine), but he came alive at the end against the Rockets. In the series-clinching game, without Leonard (which might have actually helped his rhythm), he scored 34 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. He’s gone nuclear in the playoffs before, including scoring 38 and 40 points in Games 1 and 2 against the Thunder in last year’s playoffs.
He has the the size advantage on Draymond Green, but Green is a formidable post defender. Aldridge might be better off making quick moves and taking quick shots straight over Green, rather than trying to back him down. He’s looked sluggish at times when trying to brute force his way to the rim.
It’s possible to punish the Warriors on the inside, and the Spurs did so in their series against the Rockets. Gasol and Aldridge dominated the offensive glass against the thinned out Houston frontline. The problem is that the Warriors have had absolutely zero issues rebounding so far this playoffs.
How Much Small Ball Will The Warriors Run?
So far Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee have averaged around 13 or 14 minutes per game each in these playoffs. This doesn’t leave too much time for Green to play center in their new and improved, small ball, death lineup. Per basketball-reference’s play-by-play estimates, Draymond Green has played 21% of his minutes in this year’s playoffs at center. And boy has he been good at it. He’s averaging a monster two steals and 2.6 blocks per game.
But it’d be interesting to see how often they go to this. The Spurs rarely go small and the Warriors could try to match them big for big. But the Spurs could easily be exploited by the Warriors small lineup. Against the Rockets, the Spurs got creative in where they hid Aldridge, whether it be on Trevor Ariza or even Patrick Beverley, but there’s nowhere to hide against the Warriors’ death lineup. All are capable shooters who can put the ball on the floor.
How Do You Deal With A Stephen Curry Pick And Roll?
The Spurs did a great job on the Harden pick and roll in the last series, making several adjustments along the way. The Spurs’ bigs were getting roasted by Harden on any haphazard switches so instead they opted for the big to do a quick hedge or stunt towards him, give the primary defender time to recover on Harden, and then return to guarding the roll man.
But, as Ben Falk pointed out here, Harden eventually got the hang of it and got Ariza several clean looks. So, the Spurs decided to simply have the primary ball defender go over the screen and have the big just hang back to prevent a drive. Since Leonard, with his go-go gadget arms and talons for hands, was often the primary defender he could play the passing lanes well enough to make any pick and pop passes difficult.
Let’s see how each of these would work against Stephen Curry. Switch big onto him? You’re toast. Quick stunt by the big? He could pull up on those in a heartbeat if stunt isn’t hard enough. Go over the screen and chase him off the three-point line? That’s probably the best option, even though Curry is one of the best finishers in the league. The problem is that the Curry-Green high pick and roll has been a staple of their offense for years. Curry is just too good in the paint. Green is just too good at the four on three’s created by the pick and roll when there are shooters in the corners.
So what’s the answer? Beats me. that’s why I’m here in my chair and not on the sidelines of an NBA game. ICEing might work decently enough. Having the big drop back while the primary defender goes over screens might also. Basically I think you’ll just have to live with him taking two-pointers. Have everyone else stick close to shooters and just hope Curry doesn’t cook you with a dazzling array of floaters and off-balance layups.
Will We See More Of The Curry-Durant Pick And Roll?
There was talk all year of this simple, yet devastating play. But the Warriors kept in their back pockets most nights. Is it finally time to use it? Or is that right reserved for LeBron? It is just so amazingly difficult to comprehend how this play is even an option for a team to run. Two MVPs, two of the greatest shooters of all time, two of the best isolation players in the league, going into a pick and roll? Absolutely disgusting. Oh, and one of them is seven feet tall.
It’s just a complete dilemma to guard. Go under the pick, that’s a Curry three. Go over, that’s a Durant roll. Trap Curry, aaaand Durant’s open. The Warriors have busted it out a few times in the playoffs and it’s looked pretty damn good. Any switches usually give Durant an obvious size mismatch he can exploit.
I think the best bet would be to either switch or let Durant roll. Yes, Durant is super-duper tall, but he’s had trouble using his size to bully smaller players before. And as a roll man at least you can defend him physically. Making him, and the rest of the Warriors, uncomfortable is key. If you let them flow and get shots off, then you’re in trouble.
Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.
Edited by Jazmyn Brown.
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