Preview: Spurs seek answers in game 3, but the Warriors keep changing the questions
It’s not a stretch to say the Warriors have been the better team so far this series. They’ve led both contests for the majority of the minutes and it took an amazing comeback, two overtimes, and a last second three pointer for the Spurs to get their win. Heading back to Oakland, the Warriors have to be feeling good about themselves, home court advantage in their pocket and all the momentum on their side.
On the other side, the Spurs have to be wondering exactly what their next step will be in reclaiming their favored status. They’ve struggled to consistently produce points against a Warriors’ defense that has closed off the paint. Golden State’s ability to switch screens has left the Spurs’ motion attack devoid of the ball movement that they typically roast teams with. In response the Spurs -- especially in game 2 -- became more dependent on an isolation style that only led to 14 assists (in the regular season they averaged 25 a game).
And when they did isolate, they had trouble scoring against the versatility of the Warriors’ long, active wing defenders. For the series, when Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green share the floor the Warriors’ defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) is 85.5 per NBA.com. Backed up by bruising big men Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili, the Golden State’s perimeter defense has been fantastic.
Combine the Spurs’ offensive struggles with the Warriors’ ability to generate good looks on the other end of the floor and it’s not hard to see why the Spurs are in this predicament.
All is not lost for San Antonio, however. While the Warriors have seemingly solved the puzzle of how to slow down the Spurs’ attack, there are still adjustments that can be made. Quicker ball reversals out of their standard pick and roll sets can create good match ups on the weak side. When Tony Parker looks to attack off Tim Duncan screens, he can quickly swing the ball back to Duncan who can then run a secondary pick and roll with the wing on the opposite side of the floor -- especially when that player is Manu Ginobili (who needs to find the range on his jumper quickly after needing 32 shots to score 28 points in the first two games).
This type of quick ball movement combined with screen actions can get the Warriors’ bigs moving side to side while also limiting the effectiveness of defensive switches.
Further, the Spurs can simply do what they’ve done all year by hitting some of the open shots they’re getting. In game 2, several uncontested jumpers clanked off the rim. If the Spurs hope to loosen up the Warriors’ defense, they have to turn some of those misses into makes. This will force the Warriors to rush out to the perimeter to contest shots and allow the Spurs’ wings to attack closeouts off the dribble and get easier baskets in the paint.
Where the Spurs may have bigger issues, however, is in slowing down Golden State’s offense. Someone always seems to step up for the Warriors -- in game 1 it was Curry, game 2 it was Thompson -- and that makes them difficult to scout and even harder to fully stop defensively.
The plan can start with forcing Curry to penetrate to finish rather than allowing him to take the deep jumpers he prefers to launch. Curry is a below average finisher at the rim and while those shots can often lead to offensive rebounds, it’s best to force him into positions where he’s less effective. If the Spurs need to pick their poison, 2nd chance opportunities from guys like Carl Landry or Festus Ezeli are less dangerous than a lava-hot Curry from behind the arc.
Similarly, they must run Thompson off the three point line and force him into help defenders where his shot will be better challenged. If Thompson and Curry can both be moderately controlled -- a tough task, for sure -- the Warriors chances of winning go down tremendously. That is unless Barnes, Green, and Jack aren’t making the majority of their shots.
And maybe that’s the Spurs’ biggest problem going into game 3. The Warriors, through their 8 playoff games, have proven to have enough fire power to score points even if one of their best players struggles. The Spurs, meanwhile, weren’t tested in the first round and are just now running into a quality opponent who can stretch them on both sides of the ball.
So while there is, theoretically, plenty of series left for the Spurs to figure things out, the time is now for them to start to make inroads. Another loss tonight will not bode well if they hope to advance to the conference finals for the second straight year.