NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Finals Preview
It looks like the Warriors will finally face some real competition after back to back sweeps over the Portland Trailblazers and the Utah Jazz. In a way, things have come full circle for the Warriors. The last time they saw the Spurs in the playoffs back in 2013, they were making their first playoff appearance with the Splash Brothers. Steph Curry had just come onto the scene and began to establish what we know of him today. After six tough games, the Warriors fell to the more experienced Spurs. Now the Warriors have been around the block and gotten hardware and accolades of their own.
The San Antonio Spurs have been tested during their entire playoff run up to this point. They’ve had to face a physical defensive style team in the Memphis Grizzlies and an offensive machine in the Houston Rockets. In a way, you get the Warriors if you combine the strengths of both of the previously mentioned teams. Golden State can play defense at a high level when they have to and their offense needs no explanation or introduction. This will need to be one of Coach Popovich’s finest coaching performances and a true coming of age for Kawhi Leonard (who is getting a little hate for some strange reason). Let’s take a look at some of the keys to the series.
Keys for San Antonio:
-Control the Paint
Ask anyone and they will tell you the weakness of the Warriors lies in the paint. So far no team has exploited that weakness to much success. Zaza Pachulia, David West and Javale McGee have bought into their roles. And while they’re considered weak links on this team, don’t mistake that for them being scrubs. They play with energy and fit the roles just fine. For the Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Dwayne Dedmon need to be the dominate bigs in the paint. That begins with crashing the glass and securing rebounds. Offensively, it’s time for someone to get to the paint consistently and put pressure on the Warriors defense. While the Warriors do block shots at a high rate, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond. It could be telling if they make it to the Finals.
The Spurs defense will be tested once again in this series. They found ways to take out the Rockets offense, but will have a tougher time against a more talented Warriors team. Unfortunately, you can’t clone Kawhi Leonard to guard four different people. Which means Danny Green will be called upon to cover the Warrior MVP that Kawhi isn’t guarding. That will likely be Curry. Furthermore, they’ll have to look in the mirror a bit and prepare themselves for the Warriors ball and man movement. That shouldn’t be much of a problem because the Warriors patterned that part of their game from the Spurs.
-Consistency from LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge has been inconsistent in this postseason. Against the Grizzlies, he had trouble going up against their bigs and making a consistent impact. He was much better against the Rockets as he averaged 18.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. That includes a 34 point and 12 rebound outing in the closeout game six against the Rockets. The Spurs need more of that from the man who is supposed to be the heir to Tim Duncan’s throne. This will be the most important series of his career.
Keys For Golden State
-Force the Spurs to Abandon Traditional Lineup
The Spurs like to employ a traditional lineup on the court (two bigs on the floor). Since length and athleticism give the Warriors trouble, it would be in their best interest to force the Spurs to play only one big. So look for the Death Lineup to be an often occurrence in an attempt to do just that.
-Five Through 13
We all know what the Warriors Big Four can do, but they’ll need some help from their supporting cast against a deeper Spurs team. That starts with Andre Iguodala who will be featured prominently when the Warriors opt to go small. Right now he’s the glaring weakness in that lineup since he’s been awful from behind the arc. He missed his first 18 three-point attempts in the playoffs before going three of his last four attempts against Utah. The Spurs may just opt to let him shoot if he can’t make them respect him. Their rotation of bigs will need to play with physicality and energy when they’re on the floor. West, Pachulia and McGee have to make their minutes impactful on the floor. In fact, their entire second unit needs to make their presence known against a superior Spurs bench.
The most underrated aspect of the Warriors is their ability on the defensive end of the floor. It’s time for the often ignored aspect to become their signature. Since the Celtics big three formed for the 2008 season, successful ‘super teams’ often did it on the defensive end. The aforementioned Celtics were the best in the league defensively and the Big 3 era Miami Heat also could apply pressure with their defense. That will be the key. If their defense can olay at a high level, there’s no team in the league that can beat them.
Prediction: Warriors in 7
Anyone picking the Warriors to win in under six games are just impatient and want to hurry up to the finals (not that I blame them). But they have to note that during the regular season matchup, the Spurs got out to a 20-point lead in each of their games against the Warriors. They’re the one team that has exploited the Warriors shortcomings and have proven they can hang with the juggernaut. In fact, they’re the only team that can hang with them. Plus, Kawhi (depending on health) has emerged as the league’s best two-way player and Popovich is a coaching genius. Anything under seven is a bit disrespectful. However, I think the Warriors superior talent will win out in the end…barely.