Once again the Golden State Warriors enter a playoff series as the underdogs and this time they're up against an opponent that likely won't make as many mistakes as their first round foe.
The San Antonio Spurs enter this series as not only the favorite against the Warriors, but also the 5/7 favorite to win the Western Conference, according to Bovada odds updated yesterday. And we haven't even begun to talk about the Warriors 29 consecutive losses to the Spurs in San Antonio (because surely, that will be repeated over and over again before this series is over).
So before getting to a full series preview, we consulted Matthew Tynan of SB Nation's Pounding the Rock as well as ESPN True Hoop's 48 Minutes of Hell for some insight on how the Spurs match up with the Warriors, what might make this year's Spurs team unique compared to all of their other championship contending teams, defending Curry, and his series prediction.
GSoM: An obvious narrative in this series is experience vs. inexperience - in terms of playoff experience, it's possible that you couldn't find a starker contrast between two NBA organizations (setting aside recent expansion franchises). But what would you say is the biggest tangible advantage for the San Antonio Spurs in this matchup?
Matthew Tynan: Discipline and defense. Maybe 'discipline' isn't a tangible thing, but defense is, and the Spurs' strengths in that area potentially mask what Golden State likes to do offensively. The Warriors like to shoot 3-pointers and the Spurs work hard to defend them. The only thing is, San Antonio has slipped in that department over the last month or two to where the Warriors actually hold an advantage in terms of opponent 3-point field-goal percentage allowed.
Still, the Spurs have regularly been in the top three defensively this season, and it looked pretty impressive against a crapped-out Los Angeles team. And it's hard to gauge precisely where the Spurs are after that Lakers series, but you can tell the focus is there. They were very disciplined in their gameplan on both sides of the court, and I think that's where they have the biggest advantage. It will be the antithesis of what the Denver Nuggets just were.
GSoM: People are already making a lot out of the Warriors losing to the Spurs in San Antonio 29,000 consecutive times or something, but the Warriors did split the regular season series this season and Andrew Bogut - who is playing his best ball as a Warrior right now - only played in one of four of those games. What, if anything, do you think we might have learned about this matchup from the regular season series?
MT: Next to nothing. It's like somebody was hurt or... *ahem*.... resting for all the season's matchups. I mean, Tony Parker and Stephen Curry have only matched up once this season, and the only time it happened was during the Warriors' overtime win in February when Jarrett Jack went crazy. He LOVES to go crazy against the Spurs though.
Jack going crazy against the Spurs for 30 points and 10 assists in the Warriors' 107-101 win on Feb. 22.
But we have yet to see these teams play against each other at full strength, so the regular season games don't mean a whole lot one way or the other. I think we saw both teams look very good at times in each of the games, but the playoffs will be a new animal.
GSoM: After watching Stephen Curry in the first round, how would you expect the Spurs to approach defending him? Who would you like to see assigned to him?
MT: It'll probably start off with Tony Parker guarding Steph. The only other option I can see right off the bat would be Danny Green, but I'd bet on Tony (Kawhi Leonard's kind of like the trump card you hold for a while).
The problem with defending the Warriors is their whole perimeter is dangerous offensively. If you put size on Curry, then you end up with Parker defending a much-bigger Klay Thompson, who is also a hell of a player and nasty shooter - you really don't want that. But in the past the Spurs have generally put it in a rotation type of situation, where they give Curry different defensive looks throughout the game. Like, a typical sequence would be Parker guarding him one play, Green the next, then Parker again and then Kawhi, then ... oh hey Gary Neal (Curry makes three) .... then Leonard then Leonard then Leonard. But in general, they just want to make him uncomfortable, not knowing what he'll see personnel wise from play to play.
GSoM: Cameron Archer noted in his piece about tracking the Big Three after the first round that Manu Ginobili looked to regress in the final two games against the Lakers, but that part of it might have been that he just wasn't needed. From your point of view, do you see Pop "loosening the minutes leash" at all this round?
MT: Yeah, you can't measure those games for regression, in my opinion. They were never close, and Manu has a tendency to coast in games like that. No need to push what isn't a fully and completely healed hamstring. I thought the telling play in Game 4 was when Ginobili drove by Howard for a dunk. You only see that with a healthy Manu. Who knows exactly how he is (in his mind he's ready to play all game) but he looks good to me. And having eight days off is certainly huge for him.
As for the "minutes leash," I can still see Pop employing that. He's not just thinking in terms of letting his hamstring heal from the previous injury, he's using preventative maintenance. He knows in order to make a long run, they need Manu, so I don't see the playing-time restrictions being lifted until he's absolutely needed. Not saying that won't be this series, but I am saying I don't think he'll be unleashed immediately.
GSoM: A lot of people look at the Spurs' precision offense and overall success over the last decade or so, focus on the Big Three or coach Gregg Poppovich, and ignore that they've made a lot of personnel changes while generally maintaining their status as a contender. What, if anything, makes this year's team stand out as unique?
MT: This team is unique compared to the ones over the last decade because of the blend of offensive and defensive excellence. The Spurs were built on dominating teams defensively over course of their title run, but since then have adapted to become more of a motion-based perimeter-oriented offense. But their defense fell off to the middle of the pack in doing so. This year they've been a top defense for much of the season, at times looking as close to the old Spurs as they have since the 2007 championship season. So it's a blend of the two disciplines that stands out to me.
GSoM: Is there anything in particular that you or other fans are afraid of the Warriors exploiting in trying to beat the Spurs?
MT: I mean, I don't think there's any question what you have to worry about is the Warriors' perimeter shooting. If they're just not hitting, then Golden State is in big trouble. But Curry and Thompson, in particular, are terrifying from the standpoint of how hot they can get. When Curry gets going, those threes are as automatic as a Parker floater, and that's unreal.
The Spurs' bread and butter: Pick & rolls and Parker floaters.
I wrote about Curry's season over at 48 Minutes of Hell, and what he's done is unprecedented. So, especially with David Lee out (that minute and a half being a bit of a stunt, right?), it's all about that 3-point shooting.
GSoM: We're hearing a lot about the Warriors being the underdogs, but some are saying (or wanting to believe) that you can't count them out after they upset the Nuggets. What's your prediction for this series and how much does that performance against the Nuggets affect how you see the Warriors now?
MT: The Warriors were a bad matchup for Denver. I'll admit, I picked the Nuggets to win in seven games, but I knew it would be close. Golden State went out and won this thing convincingly, though. But I don't think we can take away a ton from the performance against the Nuggets. The shooting exhibition was impressive, and there were some great contributions from guys like Draymond Green, but the Spurs are a whole different story: the defensive breakdowns on the perimeter won't happen, the offensive lulls will be farther and fewer in between, and the lack of 3-point shooting efficiency won't exist (you'd think, at least).
I think the Spurs will take this in five games, but I don't think we're talking about blowouts here. The Warriors are getting damn close, and maybe a tightly fought series like the one against Denver can cause something to click. It's a learning experience to some degree, that much can be said. But I don't think this is the time, and I think San Antonio is ultra focused. Having said all of this, eight days off is a long time. And if Golden State is able to take advantage of some Spurs rust and take Game 1, then things change a little, and the pressure would be on San Antonio from the get-go. But again, my prediction: Spurs in 5.
For more coverage on the Spurs, check out SB Nation's Pounding the Rock. For more on this series, stay tuned to our Warriors-Spurs second round section.