1.) After several playoffs just missing this matchup, we finally get the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. What are you looking forward to the most from this series?
Jesse Blanchard: Watching Kawhi Leonard continue to evolve. There is absolutely nothing to look forward to with the Warriors anymore. They’re almost as inevitable as death and taxes, and who looks forward to that?
There is, however, excitement in flirting with death, be it skydiving, bull riding or containing a Steph Curry and Draymond Green pick and roll.
Leonard doesn’t offer much in the way of emotion, but it will be intriguing to see what the competitor in him comes up with when pushed into a constant state of fight or flight. This is the first time in his career where he has the tools to adjust to anything an opponent can throw at him.
Eli Horowitz: I’m looking forward to seeing if the Spurs can once again prove people wrong. Many analysts picked the Houston Rockets in six against San Antonio, and the Spurs romped them on the road without Kawhi Leonard. Now they open as 10.5 point underdogs and will be doubted once more. The Spurs match up about as well as you can against the Warriors, and have the depth to defend the Warriors in many ways. The question is can they score enough.
Morten Stig Jenen: I’m looking forward to San Antonio’s defensive approach to this series. They figured out James Harden, but that was one man. Now they’re up against four stars who can murder you in a myriad of ways. They can somewhat duplicate the strategy they used on Harden to cover Curry, but can’t implement it with Durant due to his absurd length and high release point. On the other end, I’m looking forward to seeing who will be put on Kawhi Leonard. Will Draymond slide down a position and defend him for most of the series, or will Golden State mix it up with Green and Durant, thus providing Leonard with two vastly different defenders? Either way, it’s going to be tremendously exciting.
Brandon Jefferson: What kind of tricks Gregg Popovich has up his sleeves for the Warriors. We saw him flip the script on the Houston Rockets last round after Game 1 looked like a train wreck.
Golden State has taken the “Beautiful Game” mantle from the Spurs, and with a roster featuring four of the top 25 players in the league there’s always an All-Star (or two) on the floor at all times.
Kawhi Leonard is the best perimeter defender in the NBA and Danny Green has had the task of dealing with an opponent’s number one option many times, but that means two of the Warriors superstars are going to be matched up against average defenders at best. Green and Leonard will likely handle Curry and Durant respectively, but Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are capable of winning games on their own.
2.) What are the key matchups for each team?
Jesse Blanchard: For the Spurs, it’s LaMarcus Aldridge against everyone not named Draymond Green. San Antonio doesn’t need Aldridge to win head-to-head battles with Green consistently, but they need him to wreck everyone else to the point that he occupies Green at all times.
They also need him to knock down open jumper when Green helps off him.
This year, Green has been the best defensive player in the NBA because he can protect the rim and switch out and disrupt everything at the point of attack—often on the same position. But if Aldridge can occupy Green, it locks Golden State into something a little more conventional defensively.
The Warriors have too many individually great players for any one matchup to matter, but if they can survive at the center position enough to not tax the death lineup, it will prevent Golden State from getting worn down as the series progresses.
Eli Horowitz: Draymond Green and LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge has to play this matchup to a tie for the Spurs to win. The Spurs can defend Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant as well as anyone with Leonard, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Jonathon Simmons, Manu Ginobili and Dejounte Murray. Pau Gasol can hide on Zaza Pachulia and even Andre Iguodala if they choose to leave him open. The problem is Green. If Aldridge switches Curry/Green pick and rolls, the Spurs could get torched. If Aldridge zones up, Green’s ability to knock down shots and make plays could be decisive. Green has been the better player for multiple years now and is the heavy favorite to outplay Aldridge. But that’s the Spurs’ chance.
Morten Stig Jensen: This is going to sound paradoxical, given that San Antonio just beat Houston by 39 points after hitting just five three’s in Game 6, but the key to the series for them is connecting on quite a few long bombs. Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, and even LaMarcus Aldridge need to adopt a no conscience mentality for this series. If you’re open, don’t hesitate for a second.
Defensive rebounding will be a huge thing for Golden State. The Spurs are scrappy, and feed off second-opportunity points, so limiting that aspect of the game for them will give the Warriors amble opportunity to shave some points off San Antonio’s total.
Brandon Jefferson: For the Spurs, it’s Kawhi Leonard against Kevin Durant. Last season, Leonard and Green had the task of defending Durant, who finished that six-game series averaging 28.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and four assists per game on 50 percent shooting. That’s not exactly slowing down KD. In that series, Russell Westbrook was the only other star for San Antonio to worry about. Now they have to deal with Curry, Green, and Thompson too. Leonard is a completely different player this season. Even if Durant gets his numbers Leonard is good enough to go shot-for-shot with him now. San Antonio is going to need its best from Kawhi if it wants to give Golden State their first true test of the postseason.
Golden State needs to win the battle between Draymond Green and LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is San Antonio’s second-in-command on the court. When he struggled against Houston, things looked dour for the Spurs; and that was when he was facing off against the likes of Nene, Ryan Anderson, James Harden and Clint Capela. Now he will likely be locked into a matchup against the likely Defensive Player of the Year in Green.
With Leonard and Danny Green having their hands full on defense, and Tony Parker sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs, the Spurs will need more nights like the 34-point, 12-rebound performance he put together in Game 6 against the Rockets. The Warriors, meanwhile, will need Green to effectively play spot minutes as a center too in order to force Pop’s hand to go small, which the Spurs’ coach is often reluctant to do.
3.) The Spurs win if…
Jesse Blanchard: LaMarcus Aldridge can keep the Warriors locked into more conventional lineups and punish Golden State on the glass. They’ll also need Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to struggle from deep—against Houston, the Spurs showed they’re willing to live with shots from certain players in certain situations, and if they can find two points they can help off of without stressing their rotations, it will give the Spurs’ defense a foothold into the series.
They’ll also need Kawhi Leonard to have the best series of his life; attacking each of the Warriors stars, forcing switches and drawing help to create plays for his teammates.
They’ll also need Jonathon Simmons to stay disciplined, Danny Green to knock down shots and Patty Mills to go nuclear. In short, the Spurs probably need too many things to go perfectly to count on them consistently.
Eli Horowitz: The Spurs win if they can play Aldridge with Gasol and make the Warriors pay for going small. They have to win the turnover battle, out-rebound the Warriors and make the Warriors exert effort on defense by attacking relentlessly with their small-ball lineup. The Spurs need to put Curry and Thompson into pick and rolls, and then post up Aldridge and Gasol if they get switches.
Morton Stig Jensen: Kawhi goes nuclear, the defense stands tough, and San Antonio’s shooters get hot.
Brandon Jefferson: One of Golden State’s big four goes down hurt or stinks it up for seven games. Or if Mike Brown chokes.
4.) The Warriors win if…
Jesse Blanchard: Draymond Green is allowed to roam defensively and hits enough shots to create havoc offensively. If they can defend Leonard and Aldridge without sending too much help. If Steph Curry plays like a glitch that even Leonard and Green can’t slow down. Really, there are just so many different ways the Warriors can win that it’s tough to see how they lose.
Eli Horowitz: The Warriors win by defending how they have all season. If the Warriors turn the Spurs into an isolation team by switching everything and taking away San Antonio’s motion offense, the Spurs won’t be able to score enough to win. As good as Leonard has become, Durant will be able to match him offensively, and Aldridge still hasn’t proven he can dominate consistently.
Morton Stig Jensen: They stay healthy, move the ball, and minimize their own mistakes so the Spurs can’t benefit.
Brandon Jefferson: Nothing out of the ordinary happens after they roll the ball out.
5.) What’s your pick, in how many games and why?
Jesse Blanchard: Any team is going to need a lot of luck to defeat Golden State, and the Spurs are one of maybe two teams disciplined and good enough to capitalize on such opportunities. But the Warriors are simply so deep and so good that they’ll stress even the Spurs’ level of execution and unravel it at times. Warriors in five.
Eli Horowtiz: I picked the Spurs to win the title this year so I’m not going to switch now. Spurs in 7. San Antonio gave 13 players semi-meaningful minutes this season. Against the Houston Rockets, they didn’t even need the services of Davis Bertans or Dewayne Dedmon. If there’s a team with the depth and coaching to make the Warriors vulnerable, it’s the Spurs. They don’t have the great equalizer the Cavaliers have in LeBron James, but Kawhi Leonard is not a bad antidote.
Morton Stig Jensen: Warriors in six. Golden State is too talented and deep to let the Spurs take this away from them. Tony Parker is out, Leonard is somewhat of a question mark health-wise, and LaMarcus Aldridge can go 1-for-10 as easily as shoots16-for-26, which doesn’t exactly make him Mr. Reliable. I’ve said in six games simply due to Gregg Popovich. He’ll out-coach Mike Brown to the point where this is Michael Jordan vs. Gerald Wilkins 2.0, but without the sheer amount of talent that Golden State have, it’s an impossible mission.
Brandon Jefferson: I’m going with Warriors in 5. Golden State looks better as a team now than they ever did during the regular season. Things are coming together at the exact right time for this team. They are easily the more talented team and if they play to the level that they are capable of this will be a short and sweet series.