Look, I’m staggered. The Denver series at least made sense. The Nuggets were bad at defending 3s, the Warriors were great at shooting them. What happened was less an upset than a series that Golden State probably wins again if you run it back. In theory, this meant that a playoff matchup against the almighty Spurs would ruin everything. San Antonio gives up the 5th least 3-point attempts in basketball. Fun’s over, go home. A silver and black team’s about to remind Oakland of everything the Raiders aren’t.
It hasn’t been that simple, though. The Warriors are getting their 3s and the series is tied. For the vast majority of these 2 games, Golden State has led. And I’d say “Golden State has led comfortably,” except, Game 1 renders almost any lead less comfortable than a couch made from chicken wire.
What the hell is happening? Well, it would seem that the overall season stats didn’t take specific matchups into account. Within those matchups we spy something bizarre: San Antonio’s three best players are hurting them defensively.
Warriors are Weird
First, some thoughts on the Warriors. This is a weirdo team. They shot better than 40% from distance this season, all without the aid of regular dribble penetration. Unlike Miami, OKC, San Antonio, and New York, Golden State didn’t rely on a slasher or a 4-out (four 3-point shooters) approach to create these looks. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson tended to launch off floppy action sets, and transition opportunities. And yet, after the All-Star break, Curry and Thompson combined to hit more 3-pointers per game than 10 teams. If Steph and Klay were a franchise unto themselves, they’d be tied with the Bulls at 19th for most 3s after the All-Star break. Two guys. The duo needs little room and uses little conscience when letting it fly.
So, some of the 3-stopping principles San Antonio used prior to this might not be applicable. Take Stephen Curry. Most smart defenses are used to worrying about easy catch-and-shoot 3s. The problem is that Curry, he whose dribble evokes the cocking of a shotgun, is quite comfortable firing off the bounce.
The Duncan Adjustment
This is connected to San Antonio’s Tim Duncan issue. In his prime, Duncan hedged masterfully when defending the high screen and roll. Few big men were better when flashing out to scare guards above the 3-point line. He doesn’t quite have that mobility now, and the Spurs adjusted for it recently. Duncan now sinks back around the paint on screens, much like Andrew Bogut does for Golden State. That’s fine against a lot of teams, but it’s death when facing Stephen Curry. He just dribbles around Bogut’s screen and makes the net dance.
This is what happened in Game 1 and San Antonio decided to tinker with plans in Game 2. The result was that Duncan waddled up high and Curry knocked a 3 over him anyway. Later in the game, Duncan approached and Curry drove right past. Duncan is still a plus player, and forcing Curry to drive is still the right call (Curry did have a mediocre Game 2), but does San Antonio really want Timmy running around, expending even more energy while playing heavy minutes?
Where to Park Parker?
The Duncan issue is minor compared to the Parker issue, though. There’s no safe place for him to hide on defense, really. I don’t believe TP to be a poor defender, but here’s where we get into how Golden State is weird and how they goofy foot your defense. Parker’s skill is quickness and strength, which is great for stopping dribble penetration. Too bad that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are far more interested in just shooting over the top of him. So much of this series so far reminds me of the Indiana Jones “Sword vs. Gun” scene. The Warriors are very, “Why sweat when you can just pull a trigger?”
In Klay’s case, he’s recently developed a knack for posting on smaller guards. I hated when the Warriors started doing this, but Thompson is surprisingly effective at taking fadeaways over guys like Mo Williams. Leave it to Golden State to make a commonly bad process into a good one in the specific.
Since Parker can’t hide on Thompson (as Game 1 showed), he’s getting put on the even larger Harrison Barnes. I’m fine with this strategy from a San Antonio perspective…until they send help and the 3-point defense breaks down. Also, the other problem with this tactic is that creaky Manu Ginobili then finds himself marking the frenetic, peripatetic Klay Thompson off the ball. Poor Manu got burnt to ashes in the second quarter of Game 2. Thompson, by the way, had himself quite a night in going 8-of-9 from deep with 34 points. Even more staggering: His facial expression never changed.
Klay Thompson also brings the added benefit of causing Tony Parker problems on offense. With his size and span, Klay is the prototypical Parker-marker, and so far, he’s quelling San Antonio’s best offensive player. When you step back from this series, it’s mildly hilarious that a Thompson-Parker crossmatch is a disadvantage for San Antonio.
Shooting: Unleash the Threast
It’s also mildly hilarious that the Golden State Warriors are playing this well against the San Antonio Spurs, just on the face of things. It’s funny, but there is sense to be made from it. There’s much talk of, “HOW ARE THE WARRIORS SHOOTING LIKE THIS,” even though this is, largely, how the Warriors shoot. Golden State averaged a shade over 40% from deep this year. In the playoffs, they’ve shot a shade over 40% from deep. Against the Spurs, it’s crept up to 41.5% from distance. Hello East Coast, hello national viewers. This is how the Warriors splash.
The difference is that they’re shooting more from deep than ever. Over the season Golden State tried 19.9 3-pointers per game; In the playoffs, they’ve attempted 24.9.
Remember, the Warriors were shooting a magnificent regular season percentage while not operating with a lot of space. When Lee went down, GSW went small, spread the floor and unleashed The Threast. The result was George Karl accepting his Coach of the Year award while looking glum. The result was a road win in San Antonio. The result was Golden State beating eight Las Vegas spreads in a row.
Is it sustainable? Over the long haul next season, probably. Within this series, who knows? Also, the Spurs missed a lot of open 3s on Wednesday night. Brace yourself for those falling soon. And get hyped for the East Oakland Madhouse on Friday night.
Stephen Curry is not a “kid”
One digression regarding this sudden national media coverage of the Warriors: Stephen Curry is not a “kid.” I keep hearing him referred to this way, even though Steph has a wife, a child, and a four year track record in the NBA. While I understand that he looks quite young, the dude’s older than Kevin Durant. While I understand that average sports fan stopped thinking about him after Davidson, Stephen Curry did indeed age in those intervening years. I know, because I wrote about a lot of bad things that happened in those years. Really bad things. Things like Keith Smart benching Stephen Curry for Acie Law a lot. Let us celebrate Curry’s tooth-and-claw rise from the muck, for once.
The Warriors shrunk again in the 4th quarter, nearly (again) squandering a big lead. In the series, they’re shooting 30.6% from the field in the final stanza. Some of this is standard regression (You can’t shoot wonderfully all the time), and some of it is just poor execution. I believe that Golden State has hurt themselves by slowing down towards the end and trying to exert control over possessions. Maybe it’s tough to stay loose and liable to launch in the nervy moments, but the Warriors could stand to try it. My heart can only take so many Jarrett Jack isolations.