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Stopping LaMarcus Aldridge is the key to the Warriors-Spurs series

When the Warriors shut down LaMarcus Aldridge, the entire Spurs offense goes on life support.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs have had one of their worst years in a long while, but that’s to be expected without MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard and an aging core. Their defense is still elite, third in the league according to Basketball--Reference. That’s a testament to Gregg Popovich’s system and the discipline of their players. The Spurs’ defense defends the three-point line well, doesn’t foul, and rebounds at a decent rate, and it led them back into the playoffs once again.

But the Spurs haven’t had this mediocre an offense in a long while, sitting at seventeenth out of thirty teams in the league. They don’t turn the ball over, and are factors on the offensive boards, but they lack three-point shooting and dynamic individual scorers. Thus, the only scorer the Golden State Warriors really have to fear is LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge averages more than twice the amount of points as the Spurs’ second leading scorer, Rudy Gay (not including Kawhi Leonard’s nine-game regular season stint). Aldridge is a volume scorer who’s been pretty decently efficient this year.

Aldridge is shooting a career-high 57.0% True Shooting percentage this year, is getting to the line at a good rate, and is rarely turning the ball over. He’s cut out a lot of the long two pointers that defined his game in years past and is shooting better around the basket. His ability to score on multiple levels can be difficult to guard.

But he’s exploitable: he’s not a good passer, averaging only two assists per game this year. The Warriors have stymied him in the past: last year, after Kawhi Leonard went down to injury, Aldridge could not find his rhythm as the Spurs’ go-to man. So far this season as well, Draymond Green has owned LaMarcus Aldridge defensively. They have shown they can contain him.

In Game 1 of the Spurs’ first round meeting with the Warriors, Draymond Green and JaVale McGee repeatedly owned Aldridge. Aldridge only managed 14 points on 12 shots, unable to score over the length of the Warriors’ defense. Aldridge couldn’t make plays when he was double-teamed and couldn’t find much else other than mid-range jumpers. It was a completely dominant defensive performance.

The secondary creators on the Spurs—Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, and Pau Gasol—shouldn’t scare the Warriors. When the Warriors truly turn on the switch defensively, the Spurs should not be able to crack 100 points all series.