I delayed writing a piece about how players' injuries have contributed to determining the results in NBA Playoffs over the years called the NBA Slay Offs.
The analogy was that the Playoffs were determined as much by who was injured – or slayed as players though they, of course, did not die. When in light of the upcoming Western Conference Finals I decided to instead jot down some notes about what has recently happened to SAS., I realized that the "Slay Offs" could alternately be a title for the GSW Playoffs so far. This is not a piece with predictions of wins and losses or about whether SAS will provide an impediment to GSW's own slay-offs' progress, but one to help those who have not been following SAS by providing a sketch of SAS's recent actions and situation.
The first item I should mention is that SAS has been involved in the historically common Slay Off process. Tony Parker was injured early in round two and is out for the season. Kawhi Leonard has had multiple injuries including a quad injury. However, the latest was a twisted ankle that kept him out of the closeout, sixth game of the second round. Most media reports say he will play in game one of the Western Conference Finals, but Popovich has been consistently conservative concerning when players return from injuries, so his playing is not a sure thing. (One might note that SAS is 8-1 without Leonard this year including the regular and postseasons.)
Popovich and the SAS coaching staff have done some of their best work in these Playoffs. After the first game of the second round, a blowout by HOU, the adjustments throughout the HOU series where particularly outstanding. Like almost all successful Playoff teams SAS also had some good luck. In this case, in the last minutes of regulation and overtime of the fifth game with HOU, a game that SAS eventually won by three points.
Many GSoMs may have watched SAS Playoffs games while GSW have been idle after sweeping their opponents. SAS did not distinguish itself in beating MEM in the first round, but with its seven new players and three rookies, lack of Playoff experience seemed to have some effect. By the end of the first round, this had mainly been overcome.
Pau Gasol has played substantial minutes in the Playoffs. Whether this reflects a lack of faith in third-year player Dedmon's readiness for the Playoffs or matchup issues is unclear. More on matchup issues later. Playoff Danny Green has shown up, and for the last two years this is a better version than regular-season Danny.
Jonathon Simmons and Dejounte Murray have recently exhibited an ability to play within their limitations leading to significantly improved performance. Simmons' first game of the season against GSW was an extreme outlier until recently. Some have a hope that Simons has improved enough to be a solid, third wing defender that SAS needs against GSW.
SAS has had high-quality wing defenders in Leonard and Danny Green for some time. When GSW added Durant, this left SAS short one high-quality defender when facing GSW. Can Simmons deal with Klay Thompson? We may find out as I would expect Leonard on Durant and Danny Green on Curry for much of the games. SAS could even play without a point guard as it has done so for short periods since Parker's injury ended his season.
Kyle Anderson has received limited minutes in the Playoffs, but, nevertheless, appears to be one of the players in which Pop has faith.
LaMarcus Aldridge has had, for him, a mediocre season, but as the last game of the HOU series demonstrated, he still can be a sharpshooter when focused and motivated. Pop may attempt to continue the tactics used against HOU and feed the post early and often. While Draymond Green's skill and aggression on defense are much higher than the HOU players', Pop might try to exploit Draymond's short statue – a characteristic he shares with the HOU players.
SAS has been particularly good at not fouling, in part by keeping their hands away from opponents and visible to referees. No one should be surprised if few fouls are called against them despite the emotional convenience of claiming "the refs robbed us." (Fizdale should not have been surprised either, and possibly wasn't.)
During these Playoffs, Pop's lineups and player playing time decisions appear to have given heavy emphases to matchups and experience – as well as being forced by injuries. He has also been very empirical – trying things and adjusting according to results. This should continue. For example, the fact that in the 28 minutes Curry and Mills were on court together during the regular season Mills was +13 may influence whether Mills starts, as will probably the 6' 7" height of Livingston being better matched by Murray.
In addition, if Leonard cannot move well laterally on his ankle, Pop will probably sit him out for game one. How well various players do against Draymond Green will factor not only into the starting lineup for game one but also into who plays how much throughout the series.
SAS's starting lineup should not be considered as established and neither should players' minutes. Pop does what he and his staff think is best, and players simply must take the attitude that he is unpredictable and considers many factors in addition to their recent performance – not take it personally.
SAS goes at least twelve deep in NBA quality players that Pop could play against GSW. This provides more flexibility than GSW. generally has, but GSW could, if desired, play its four stars a doable 36 minutes a piece per game and always have three of them on the court. (Doing this for a game or games might also help prepare for the possibility of needing to do so against CLE.)
SAS players will have had only two and half days to rest and prepare for GSW. Of course, this contrasts with the time GSW players will have had. For this and other reasons, the first game may not provide good evidence of what will happen later in the series. However, we all have the well-justified hope of seeing high-quality basketball.