Eight things to watch in Warriors-Spurs Western Conference Finals
Here we go...
The top seed versus the second seed is always a fun matchup. Golden State hosts San Antonio Sunday afternoon for Game 1 of what should be a very competitive series. The Spurs come in beat up while the Warriors have been sitting around getting healthy...
He's a handful
Kawhi Leonard is the best two-way player in the game right now. His ascension into the ranks of the elite isn’t shocking because of his defensive acumen, but his development as an offensive player is stunning. An ankle injury cost him Game 6 of the semifinals, but the word on the street is that he should be ready for Game 1, where he’ll matchup against Kevin Durant to start and then rotate accordingly as the Warriors scorers heat up.
Welcome to the big stage, rook
Tony Parker is done for the playoffs and maybe more. The soon-to-be 35-year-old ruptured his left quadriceps tendon in the Houston series, which required surgery and a very long rehab. Rookie Dejounte Murray has stepped up to eat some of those minutes, but the real weight of the injury will fall on veteran point guard Patty Mills. How will the Spurs manage Parker’s absence against one of the best point guards in the NBA?
How will Patty Mills handle the heightened exposure?
The Australian-born guard has spent the last six seasons as Parker’s understudy in San Antonio. A late second round selection out of St. Mary’s College, just miles down the road from Oracle Arena, Mills has earned every bit of playing time over his eight-year career. He’ll play defense and break you down off the dribble in a similar fashion to Parker. He also shot 41.3 percent from three this season which is an upgrade over Parker.
Will the real Pau Gasol please stand up?
The 6-time All-Star big has been quiet through the playoffs thus far, scoring in double-figures just three times with a high of 12 points. Houston was a tough matchup for the 36-year-old, but he could do some damage down low against the four or five headed hydra the Warriors run out at center. This might be one of the key figures in this series.
The battle at the four will be epic
LaMarcus Aldridge stepped up to the plate with Leonard out in Game 6 against Houston. The Spurs spent a ton of money on this guy and his 34-point, 12-rebound performance in the clincher was huge. He’ll face off against a different beast in Draymond Green. Aldridge will try to shoot over Green, while the Warriors power forward will try to get physical.
Can Danny Green slow Klay Thompson?
Green is known for his defense, but guarding Klay is another story. Thompson is having a quiet playoff run, averaging just 16.1 points per game on 36.2 percent shooting from deep. Green isn’t a huge offensive threat, but he’s a career 42.7 percent shooter from long range in 91 postseason games. If you give him an opportunity, he’ll make you pay.
Manu Ginobili is all that remains
Tim Duncan retired and Tony Parker is out with injury, leaving the 39-year-old wing as the last of the Spurs greats from the championship runs of the 2000’s. He’s scored in double-figures just twice so far in the playoffs, but his block of James Harden in Game 5 against Houston shows he’s still a player. Gregg Popovich has taken it easy with his minutes all year long, leaving the 15-year NBA vet as fresh as he can be for a late playoff run.
Counting out Popovich and his club is a mistake
He will go down as one of the greats in NBA history. In 21 seasons at the helm in San Antonio, Pop has rattled off a 1150-506 (.694) record in the regular season, 166-102 (.619) postseason record and won five rings with the Spurs. He’s posted 50 or more wins in 19 of the last 20 seasons, with the one exception being the strike shortened 1998-99 season when his team won 74 percent of their games and an NBA title. His club just sawed through a very good Rockets team and did so while dealing with injuries to two of his key starters.