It’s been a rough year for the Golden State Warriors, but even though the path was unexpected, the destination remains the same. With so many questions in play, it only makes sense for Golden State of Mind to convene a meeting of the minds to discuss.
Before getting to the matchup with the San Antonio Spurs itself, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting questions heading into this weekend.
First off, how are you feeling about our seeding coming into these playoffs? There was a recent poll on GSOM regarding fan confidence, does any of what we know now about our playoff bracket change that?
Ivan: I feel great. It panned out about as well as we could have hoped: a Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs, followed by the winner of Blazers/Pelicans, instead of a Jimmy Butler-equipped Wolves and then winners of the Utah Buzzsaw and the OKC Triple-Double Enablers? Instead, the Rockets have to go through those trials. Thanks, Lil B.
Daniel the GoldBloodedKing and Orator of Splash: The basketball gods predestined this Spurs-Warriors rematch after the San Antonio fan base cried foul play in last year’s Western Conference Finals after the Zaza-Kawhi incident.
For their murmuring and complaining, the Spurs are doubly cursed. Firstly, the Dubs will dump them from the playoffs like it’s trash day (again). Secondly, Kawhi Leonard refuses to return to save them despite being medically cleared. Thusly, after the Spurs are dispatched, Curry should return and the Dubs will remain the favorites to repeat, regardless of opponent.
Patrick: I felt a lot better about our chances after seeding was set than I have for quite some time. As Ivan says, the seeding couldn’t really be much better. Even if Kahwi Leonard returns he’ll be rusty as hell. The Spurs will force us to focus, but that’s no bad thing.
Then the second round looks perfect for a Steph Curry return — great as the Blazers backcourt are, they don’t play much defense. IF the Rockets make it past their tougher side of the bracket, and that’s no guarantee with the teams lurking there while they are missing an important defensive piece in Luc Mbah a Moute, we’ll hopefully be rolling by then anyway.
Tom: I feel roughly the same as I did before the playoff bracket came into focus, which is appropriately confident. Even without Curry, the Warriors would be more talented and experienced than any other team they faced in the first round thus I did not think it mattered who they ended up facing. The Spurs do provide a slightly easier (?) path if Leonard isn’t playing, but I have nothing but respect and appreciation for Popovich and know that any team he coaches should not be taken lightly. But the disparity in talent is so great such that I do think facing the Spurs makes the road out of the first round a bit easier.
The thing I’ve returned to is this--can I envision a team beating the Warriors four times in seven games in these playoffs? Between their talent, experience, the multiple ways they can attack a team and stop a team (to name a few factors), it is very hard for me to conceive of a scenario when that happens. It could but it would involve a confluence of factors that is pretty hard to imagine. So if all things are held equal, I think the Warriors should take care of business.
Now, will the Warriors only lose one game in the postseason like last year? Probably not. If there’s been one theme from this season, it’s that the past few years have been nothing short of remarkable anomalies. Thus we shouldn’t expect that same kind of extreme domination as a constant… but that doesn’t mean that the Warriors are not as great or should not be regarded as a favorite.
Could I see the Warriors dropping a game or two to a well-coached Spurs team? Sure. Could they have to grind out wins against Portland or New Orleans that are less than stellar? Yeah. This would be a change, whether relative to a regular season when they lost just nine games or a postseason that only featured one loss.
But if all that matters in winning a championship, I’ve seen nothing this season (especially in the games when things really mattered/when the Warriors were engaged) that’s convinced me that the Warriors are not the team to beat.
Brady: Honestly, the seeding could not have worked out more perfectly. While the Spurs are always dangerous and well-coached, they’re relatively harmless without Kawhi Leonard. LaMarcus Aldridge is good, but doesn’t present the type of matchup problems that Karl-Anthony Towns or Anthony Davis would have. More importantly, Utah slipped away from the three-seed, and Oklahoma City moved up from the six-seed, meaning the Warriors won’t face either team in the second round.
I was confident to begin with, but the playoff bracket has given the Dubs a little bit more room to ease Steph Curry back into the lineup, and that makes me all the more comfortable.
Greg: Seeding worked out quite nicely. Teams I most feared in the Western Conference bracket were: Houston, Utah, and Oklahoma City. Now we only have to play one of those on the path to the Finals.
Nate: Who cares? WGBC, regardless.
OK, seriously - I wrote before the regular season finale that losing to the Utah Jazz was good because it meant they’d avoid both them and the OKC Thunder in the first round. I stand by that first round matchup as being most important for this team at this time for all the reasons others have mentioned above. After that, once Curry is back, I wouldn’t be too worried and I think you should just expect stiffer competition in the latter rounds anyway — I don’t want people making excuses for us making another deep playoff run.
With a 7-10 record in our final 17 games, a switch definitely needs to get flipped. Which switch are you most concerned about?
Daniel: The switch is the Curry/Durant pick-and-roll. Per Chris Haynes at ESPN:
The best play in the NBA this season has been the Stephen Curry-Kevin Durant pick-and-roll. With Curry as the ball handler and Durant as the screener, the Warriors have averaged 1.29 points per direct play. No other play type -- pick-and-roll or otherwise -- has averaged more points per direct play.
This is a special play that the Warriors seem to only use when they want to completely rip the spine out of a team, which they did in the NBA Finals last year, or against the Raptors this year, or even our ex-rival the Clippers. For everyone swearing the league has caught up to us, remember that we have maybe the most unguardable play in the history of the game in our back pocket. They only thing the league will be catching is L’s if assistant coach Mike Brown convinces coach Kerr to spam it in crucial situations.
Patrick: I have two general worries switch-wise. Firstly, the defense, which has been pretty spotty this year — not all of that has been about effort. We finished up 10th in opponent three-point percentage, which was a big drop off from previous years. Draymond Green has struggled a bit against as offenses have stretched us out more this year. Some teams have caused problems for our defensive scheme by forcing Green to choose between sticking on a shooter at the three point line, at the expense of his more natural tendency to roam in and disrupt the play.
Fortunately, the Spurs, who have in recent years been pretty damn good from three, haven’t shot that well this year (26th in the league) and aren’t so stretchy as previous years. I am also hopeful that the prospect of playing a Pop team that plays a bit slower will help them focus in and set up the defense better. But the Spurs will be merciless in exploiting any gaps in the armor.
My bigger concern right now though is turnovers. Some of the recklessness in the passing this year has been awful, even for a relatively carefree team. Is that something you can just switch off? I’m not so sure.
Tom: I am a firm believer that there is a switch to be flipped. Again, if you look at the games that have “mattered,” by and large the Warriors have looked like… the Warriors we’ve become accustomed to seeing. They haven’t won all of those games but most of those loses were due to freak/random/anomalous things that do not happen all that often.
My one concern has to do with the crispness the Warriors either play or don’t play with. Especially against the Spurs, they need to play smart and sharp as they’ll be poised to seize on any slight opening. Sometimes it takes the Warriors a bit to get into a rhythm and I could see Aldridge & co. taking advantage of that time to grab the lead.
But I think the symphony of voices telling the Warriors that they’re vulnerable and not the favorites and Houston might be better will get them on the same page very quickly. For that reason, my concern about this is relatively minimal.
Apricot: Defensive effort, intensity and discipline. If they can fake that, they’ve got it made.
Brady: The Durant-playing-the-right-role switch. The Warriors so often look confused on offense when Steph Curry is out, even though the numbers are still decent. Much is due to the combination of Kevin Durant, and the system. Durant often struggles with determining how aggressive he should be; he alternates between trying to be a system player who gets the rest of the offense going, rather than taking advantage of being arguably the greatest scorer in NBA history, and trying to be the go-to isolation superstar that he is, which can come at the expense of fluidity and rhythm in the offense.
The ideal is somewhere between those two personas, and if Golden State wants to stay afloat while Curry is out, they’ll need Durant to hit that switch.
Greg: Ball movement. The play of late has been much more stagnant at stretches. Is it lack of motivation? Possibly.
Nate: For this series, it’s all about defensive intensity — I don’t think the Spurs’ offense without Kawhi can play efficiently enough to win against a locked in Warriors defense. Bring that, and I think it’s all good.