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Friday, May 12, 2017

Golden State Versus San Antonio Preview

Western Conference Finals

#1 Golden State (67-15) vs. #2 San Antonio (61-21)

Season series: San Antonio, 2-1

San Antonio can win if…Kawhi Leonard is the best player on the court and the Spurs dominate the paint with their big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. The Spurs will also need outstanding defense from all of their perimeter players in order to contain Golden State's potent outside shooting.

The Spurs are a well-coached, defensive-minded team that can play slow or fast and big or small. Tony Parker's season-ending injury did not tip the scales last round versus Houston thanks to James Harden's predictable disappearing act but Parker will be missed against the Warriors. Patty Mills is a solid replacement but, as is often the case, the problem when a top player goes down is that a team's depth is compromised and players further down the rotation are thrust into roles that they might not be quite ready to fill.

If Kawhi Leonard's effectiveness is limited by his ankle injury or if he is not able to play at all, then the Spurs have no chance. Beating a team with two legitimate MVP caliber players--Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry--in a seven game series is a lot different than beating a gimmick-based team whose star player has been overhyped for several years. If Leonard can play at his usual level, though, then the Spurs have a better chance than many people seem to think. Post play is supposedly inefficient but the reality is that effective post play enables a team to control the tempo, wear down smaller players and get the opposing team in foul trouble. The key word is "effective"; Gasol shooting fadeaway jumpers over smaller defenders is not "effective" and Gasol has always been the kind of player who needs another star (and/or his coach) to push and prod him but to do so in ways that don't result in him shrinking from the moment.

The Spurs need to alternate Aldridge and Gasol in the post, depending on matchups, with the other big stationed in the foul line extended area; put a shooter in each corner and a healthy Leonard at the top of the key and even Golden State's excellent defense could be stretched to the breaking point. The key question is whether the Spurs have the game-plan discipline necessary to play this way and execute at a high level under duress and to stick with the program even if the Warriors hit three three pointers to spark a quick 9-0 run.

Golden State will win because…the Warriors have too much offensive firepower and--unlike many previous offensive juggernauts--they are also very strong defensively.

That is the exact reason that I gave for why the Warriors would beat the Jazz in the second round and there is no need to get creative here. The Warriors are a potent, unselfish offensive team that is also a highly committed defensive team. Durant and Draymond Green have provided just enough rim protection/shot blocking to enable the Warriors to play small and the Warriors' roster/positional flexibility is difficult to overcome; they can switch, they can trap and they have several defenders who need little if any help to handle their matchups on most nights.

Durant is a marvelous all-around player. He has minimized or eliminated just about every weakness in his game. Stephen Curry, the reigning two-time MVP, had a great season, even though some people are acting like his game fell off of a cliff. I had him ahead of Harden on my MVP list even before Harden finally helped the rest of the world understand what I have been saying about him for years, namely that he is an All-Star caliber player who has been overhyped by "stat gurus" and various media members.

Klay Thompson would be the best player on most NBA teams. Green is a loudmouth whose behavior is out of control at times but he is also an excellent all-around player. The supporting cast is talented, versatile and mature; each player understands his role within the overall team concept.

Steve Kerr certainly did an excellent job coaching this team but after his back issues forced him to hand the reins over--at least on an interim basis--to Mike Brown the team has not missed a beat. Brown is an underrated coach who led the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals and might have already won at least one title if LeBron James had not quit during the 2010 playoffs. Brown is one of the media's favorite punching bags--kind of like Bill Belichick before he arrived in New England--and even if Brown guides the Warriors to the championship his role in that success will be minimized and belittled. It sure is odd that someone who supposedly understands so little about how to win at the NBA level is hired by coaches like Kerr and Popovich. Somehow I just cannot convince myself that Brown's media critics know more about NBA coaching than those two men do.

Other things to consider: I disagree with the notion that the Spurs cannot play both of their bigs at the same time versus the Warriors; the Spurs may be able to selectively go small in certain situations but their best lineup features their two bigs and if they go small for too long then the results will probably not be pretty.

The new math says that threes are better than twos. Ask the Rockets about that one after game six. Threes beat twos when the team shooting twos is not committed to the right plan at both ends of the court. Otherwise, the three point shooters can be worn down and their performance will have high variance.

If this series were played 100 times under equal conditions, I would pick the Warriors to win about 70 times--but if the Spurs play to their maximum potential they absolutely are capable of winning this series even if the Warriors play very well; if both teams play to their maximum potential (which rarely happens in any competitive endeavor) then the Warriors will win. In other words, this will be a good matchup but the Warriors have a larger margin for error.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:49 PM



At Monday, May 15, 2017 2:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first game was probably some of the best basketball I have seen in a long time. The Spurs were ready and executed their plan perfectly. I should be an excellent series.

At Tuesday, May 16, 2017 10:58:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

It would've been a great series, maybe a potential upset. Unfortunately Leonard got hurt and it isn't looking competitive anymore.


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