Western Conference Final Preview: Spurs vs Warriors

After finally putting away the Houston Rockets in Game 6 on Thursday night, the San Antonio Spurs are set to face the Golden State Warriors. Over the past two seasons, the Spurs and Warriors have been the two best teams in the NBA. Last season, the entire NBA was looking forward to a matchup between the Spurs and Warriors, until the Thunder played spoiler and defeated the Spurs. This season, many believed that the Rockets were going to be able to upend the Spurs, especially after Game 1’s demolishing of the Spurs. However, the Spurs and Popovich were able to turn around their fortunes and won 4 out of next 5 games in dominating fashion. While Spurs were pushed to 6 games, the Warriors swept their opponent for the second straight series without little resistance. Throughout the first eight games of the postseason, only once, Game 3 at Portland, has a game been decided by 10 points or less. Similar to the regular season, the Warriors have received contributions from all the players on their roster.

Why the Spurs can win?

Over the past 20 years the San Antonio Spurs have been the most consistent team in the NBA because of head coach Gregg Popovich and a superstar players such as Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard. Although Duncan no longer remains on the roster, Leonard elevated himself from a role player to one of the best players in the entire NBA. During this season and especially during the postseason, Leonard demonstrated an ability to take over games not only defensively, but offensively. This postseason, Leonard leads the team in points, 27.8, assists, 4.7, rebounds, 7.7, and steals, 1.7, per game. Even though the Warriors are a great defensive team with phenomenal individual defensive players, they do not have a great matchup against Leonard. Green is likely too small and slow to defend Leonard while Durant does not possess the strength to stay in front of the stronger forward. Leonard will use his mid range ability along with his improved three point shooting to give the Warriors fits throughout the course of the series. While Leonard is a major reason why the Spurs have a chance to defeat the Dubs, the best aspect of their team and organization is Pop. Pop is the best active coach in the NBA and maybe the best coach in the history of the NBA. Pop’s ability to command respect from his players, elevate their games, put players in the best position to succeed, and dissect his opponents allows him to put the Spurs to be in the best position to win games. Even though the Spurs lost Tony Parker, they were able to replace the former All-Star point guard with Mills and Murray and the Spurs were still able to defeat the Rockets. Lastly, the Spurs have the opportunity to win because of star, LaMarcus Aldridge. Throughout the postseason, Aldridge has underperformed and has not looked worthy of the max contract that the Spurs bestowed upon him two years ago. However, during Game 6 in a close out game on the road, Aldridge scored 34 points and led the team without Leonard on the floor, which demonstrated that he possesses the ability to be major factor in the series.

Why the Warriors can win?

Over the past three seasons, the Warriors have won the most games in NBA history over a three year span. The Warriors’ combination of skill, determination, and willingness to win has put them in rarified air. Even though the Warriors have the two time reigning MVP, Steph Curry, the team is led by All-Pro starting forward Kevin Durant, who they acquired this offseason. The Warriors won the most games in NBA history in one season last season, but their loss in the Finals to the Cavaliers led them to signing Durant. Durant, an MVP himself, has averaged 23 points, 4 assists, and 8 rebounds per game throughout the postseason. When Curry and Thompson were failing against the Jazz in Game 3, Durant took over the game as a dominant scorer and led the team to the statement victory. This team is so dominant and menacing because they have 3 of the best shooters and scorers in the game and each of them can take over a game. Along with Thompson, Curry, and Durant, the Warriors possess starting power forward Draymond Green. Green may not be the most talented player, but he plays with more heart than any other player in the league, can pass like a point guard, and possesses the ability to defend any position. This aspect of Green helps the Warriors because it allows him to run the floor, shoot threes, and play small. Along with four dominating players, the Dubs have many talented role players such as Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, JaVale McGee, David West, and Zaza Pachulia. Each of these players have their own skills that they can provide to the team and complement the stars of the team. In addition, most of these players have championship experience, which will help them against the veteran San Antonio Spurs.

Who Wins?

Even though the San Antonio Spurs were 2-1 against the Warriors this season, very few are selecting the Spurs in this series and the Vegas odds makers have the Spurs as +900. The Warriors are blessed to have four different Hall of Fame players in their starting rotation. Although Steve Kerr will not be on the sidelines for the game due to his neck and back issues, the Warriors are intelligent and possess the leadership to overcome this obstacle. If the Spurs are unable to find a legitimate number two scorer after Kawhi, assuming he is able to play with his ankle injury, this will be a very short series. Popovich was able to create a plan to stop James Harden, the catalyst of the Rockets, but it will be nearly impossible for him to stop Thompson, Curry, Durant, and Green. Look for the Warriors to spend much of their attention on Kawhi and counteracting the Spurs’ ability to control the boards. The Warriors possess too much talent and seem to be on a mission after last season’s loss in the finals. The Warriors have faced little resistance in the past two series and I expect it to continue as they will win in five games.

Does Tony Parker’s injury destroy the Spurs’ playoff hopes?

During Game 2 of the San Antonio Spurs Western Conference Semifinals series with the Houston Rockets, 16 year veteran and 6 time All-Star, Tony Parker, was forced to depart midway through the fourth quarter due to an apparent leg injury. The Spurs immediately feared the worst for their starting point guard because of the pain he displayed on the floor. Today, the Spurs’ fear came to fruition as they announced that Parker had ruptured his left quadricep tendon and would be sidelined for the rest of the postseason. Many years ago, during Parker’s prime, the departure of Parker would have signaled the end of the Spurs’ season because monumental impact he had on the team.

However, due to his age, Parker’s skills and athleticism have noticeably declined to the point where Parker has been relegated to merely a roll player. This season, Parker experienced his worst season of his career since his rookie year. In 25 minutes of action, Parker averaged only 10.1 points and 4.5 assists per game. At this point in his career, Parker’s best asset is his leadership and ability to lead an offense. However, due to the Spurs’ experience and Coach Gregg Popovich’s system, the team will not be as devastating. In addition, Parker’s lack of speed has made him a liability on defense. This was going to be a major problem in the future for the Spurs because he was not going to be able to defend the All-Star guards from the Rockets and eventually the Warriors, Beverley, Harden, Curry, and Thompson. Instead of Parker, the Spurs will be reliant on backup point guard Patty Mills to take on a bigger role in the offense. In only 21 minutes of action, Mills averaged 9.5 points and 3.5 assists per game. In an expanded role, Mills should be able to produce over 10 points per game and average nearly 5 assists per game. Along with Mills, the Spurs can rely on Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard to handle the ball, both of whom are better options than Parker. Ginobili possesses the same leadership ability and savviness as Parker, while Leonard has elevated himself to elite status.

Ultimately though, the Spurs’ future success will not severely be hindered by Parker’s injury, but upon the play of Power Forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is an All-Star type player that needs to play like a star if the Spurs are going to even beat the dynamic Houston Rockets. After a pathetic first game where he scored only 4 points, in their blowout loss, he slightly improved in game two as he scored 14 points and accumulated 8 rebounds. Throughout his career, Aldridge has averaged nearly 20 points per game. Aldridge should be able to score efficiently against the Rockets because they do not possess a player that can frequently defend him. The Rockets’ use of a small lineup results in Aldridge being defended by Ryan Anderson, a below average defender. Even though the Spurs have one of the best defenses in the league, they will need to score in high volumes to compete with the Rockets, who possess the second best offense in the league. Even though the Spurs possess an offensive system that allows multiple people to score and elevate each of their player’s games, they need a second star that they can pair with Leonard so that during crunch they will have multiple options. Tony Parker was attempting to be the second scorer as he averaged 17 points during the first few games in the playoffs, but he does not have the endurance to continue the trend and that is why the injury will not be a major blow to the Spurs’ championship hopes.