The unstoppable force handedly took the first bout, but in episode two the immovable object countered with a swift and controlling win, as the San Antonio Spurs evened the season series with the Golden State Warriors at 1-1.
When it comes to lineups, when the Warriors have all their cards out on the table, no one can beat their hand — the Death Lineup is effectively invincible.
Being that this was only the second of four games in this regular season series, I wasn’t expecting Coach Popovich to do much in the way of counter-moves. But with news of Andrew Bogut sitting out, Popovich started the game with a last second switch of Boris Diaw for Tim Duncan (who ended up playing only eight minutes after his absence in game one was made to be a relatively big deal), to counter the Warriors small-ball look, with Draymond Green at center.
One of the concerns I had with the Spurs defense against Golden State was where they would hide Tony Parker. Parker is a fine defender, albeit slower as he ages. Against most teams, he is not a liability, but against the backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, he becomes exploitable.
The Spurs started the game with Parker guarding Curry, but did a lot of switching (something they don’t typically do) to get Danny Green on Curry and Parker on Thompson. Even though this seems like a dreaded mismatch, it baited Golden State to posting up Thompson, which was a tricky move from San Antonio to get the Warriors out of their typical rhythm.
Thompson was 6-for-13 inside the arc, which is pretty good, but on plays where he posts up, there is so much less off the ball movement it takes the Warriors out of what they want to do.
Obviously, this is much less dangerous than a catch-and-shoot three, so, even though he made this one, it is much less dangerous. And without any other action on this play, it’s relatively easy for the Spurs to defend.
Starting Diaw was a fascinating move that proved to be great. Diaw drew Harrison Barnes to start the game, and immediately put him in the goal. Diaw was nearly perfect, putting back his only miss. His mobility, despite the heft, was important, especially against the Warriors’ small lineup. Offensively, he adds more spacing and playmaking than Duncan, perhaps in exchange for defense and rebounding.
LaMarcus Aldridge made up for his brutal performance last time with a 11-for-25 showing. He was especially dominant in the restricted area, taking advantage of the limited rim defenders on Golden State with Bogut and Festus Ezeli unavailable. That said, Draymond Green allows only 0.673 PPP against post-ups, which is top five in the league among players with at least 65 possessions. Because he’s only 6-foot-7, teams think they have a matchup advantage against him. Typically, not the case. Saturday night, however, Aldridge got the best of this matchup, going 8-for-11 in the restricted area.
Much like their epic game against the Thunder, the Spurs out-rebounded the Warriors 53-37. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 14, and generally did Kawhi Leonard things, swallowing up whomever he was assigned and led both the offense and defense in this one.When you can beat the Warriors up inside, and really make them pay for going small (as long as you can still keep up with them defensively) you can give yourself a chance to get some extra possessions and double up on the second chance points (24-12).
The big key in the game was Spurs switching. Parker held his own on Curry, Green was fantastic when he switched onto him and Leonard did well to contain Draymond Green as a roll man and playmaker.
Coach Kerr always talks about going away from pressure. The Spurs took advantage of that by pressing up and basically switching the pick and rolls and forced Curry into the lane, where they’d challenge Curry to take a two-point shot over the trees.
Aldridge lets Curry fly by him into the lane, but the Spurs will probably take that seven-foot finger-roll over a pull-up three on a big most days.
Here, Aldridge contains and gets a hand up to contest Curry’s shot.
Obviously, Curry had one of his worst games all year. He didn’t have the same endearing arrogance with his jumper and had to work too hard to get shots. Even though no one can completely stop a player who is having arguably the greatest offensive season of all time, the Spurs made him work for everything, which is the goal against someone of Curry’s caliber.
The Spurs defense deserves credit. Everyone on the Spurs knew were Curry was at all times. Even though he got some open looks, they played with as much mental focus as we have seen all year. It got to the point where it felt like Curry was lifting shots he might not usually take, just in the hopes of seeing one fall — which is all it takes to ignite a cascade of three’s to change the fate of the game in a matter of seconds.
Watch as Danny Green hounds Curry, even after he blocks the initial shot. He gets a few more swipes in, forces him to take a tough lane to the hoop and turn it over. That’s certainly a defensive highlight, but the Spurs were all over Curry all night, forcing him into just enough discomfort to alter his shot, if not decision making.
Even with the tweaked lineups, the Spurs did well to control the tempo of the game. Obviously, holding the Warriors to 79 points is remarkable, the Spurs truly took the Warriors out of their game and forced them into tough shots they didn’t want. That typically doesn’t happen — the Warriors can usually speed up the game and open up leads before the opponent has even realized what’s going on.
We haven’t really seen the Warriors need to hunker down on defense, so their ability to challenge the Spurs, especially given the tempo, was refreshing. On a night where Curry and Thompson combined for only 11-for-28 from the field and 2-for-19 from three, it’s rather impressive that they kept the game as close as it was.
The Warriors really did miss Iguodala. If not for his ability to defend Leonard better than anyone else on the team, his presence as a playmaker on the second unit, and in the Death Lineup, of course, surely would have changed things. Same with Bogut; his presence on the glass and protecting the rim might have evened out that rebounding discrepancy enough to make a difference.
The Warriors actually won the turnover battle again (10-17) in much less dramatic fashion than last time. That they limited their own turnovers, especially given the frantic nature of the game and urgency to make something happen on offense, the Warriors, probably thanks to the slower pace of the game, kept their turnovers in check, which is probably their Achilles’ heel.
Ultimately, you could say that the Spurs constructed a blueprint for taking them down in the future. Just catch them on a day where Iguodala, Bogut and Ezeli are all out, have the best defender in the world guard Draymond Green to take away his playmaking or switch onto Curry in the pick and roll and have Danny Green play elite defense on Curry, and Voila!
In seriousness, it will be exciting to see both teams at full strength in the future, where Pop and Kerr will have their full disposal of resources to be able to tinker and bait each other.