It can be hard to draw conclusions from just a few games but it certainly felt like there were a few notable takeaways from Spurs/Warriors III.
After all, the 2015-16 Warriors and Spurs have played a total of ten quarters during what could be classified as competitive. That excludes the fourth last night and in their first game at Oracle.
In those ten quarters, Golden State has outscored San Antonio 261-222 with a major advantage in scoring from the field. The Warriors have made 48.82% of their shot attempts during that stretch while the Spurs are far behind at 42.31% with their best performance being 44.3% last night. That leads to the first big element from last night:
Can the Spurs score enough on the Warriors?
San Antonio has a great defense and has proven they can force the Warriors into tough looks with enough regularity for me to believe that it can be repeated in the playoffs at least some of the time. However, the Spurs’ offensive performances overall have elicited some major unanswered questions.
Against most teams, the Spurs can do a solid job generating good shots, as evidenced by their 3rd-place ranking in offensive efficiency. They do this through excellent talent and an offensive scheme that puts their players in the right positions to get quality opportunities. For example, Danny Green’s ballhandling is shaky for an off-guard but he can hit open shots so the last four seasons more than 60% of his shots have been from three, mostly catch and shoots. Kawhi Leonard has grown massively on that end but Pop and his staff consistently do a nice job working within his strengths and weaknesses, like they accomplished with LaMarcus Aldridge this season.
San Antonio’s problem against the Warriors stems from a lack of seam creators. Think about Danny Green again. Being a solid catch and shoot guy is wonderful but it almost always requires something else to happen: a nice drive, forcing a turnover or a double team. Kawhi, Aldridge and Tim Duncan are wonderful basketball players but at this point in their respective careers they are not generating the attention necessary to create for others. Tony Parker can still reach those playmaking peaks at times but not as regularly as earlier in his career. Manu is in a similar boat and could actually be their best shot at creating high-end looks for teammates.
This lack of shot creation would be an even larger issue in a potential playoff series because the Warriors will be giving more minutes to their best defenders. Parker, Ginobili and the rest can scale up too but there will not be many minutes for them with less than two of Green, Iguodala and Bogut on the floor. Klay’s ability to defend on-ball will be relevant too. The Spurs assuredly have more wrinkles to add in but wrinkles are not enough to create reliable offense regularly which the Spurs must do in order to beat the Warriors.
Tim Duncan cannot play much when Stephen Curry is on the floor
Throughout the game, I clamored for Coach Kerr to run more 1/5 pick and roll when Duncan was on the floor to exploit this advantage (and also see how Danny Green affected the dynamics) but they may have already understood what would happen without needing to hammer the point home. All of the Warriors’ centers (including Green) are good enough screen setters that their man has to occupy Curry long enough for Steph’s defender to make it back. As Jared Williams wrote last week, teams have a few different ways to attack those situations but Duncan’s inability to contain Curry for even short periods takes a few of them off the board with switching being the biggest one. TD simply cannot hang with the best on-ball creators at this point.
There is still a place for Duncan in a potential series but as much of it as possible should be during the stretches at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters when the MVP is on the bench.
The Supporting Players
Last night was a high point for some of the key Warriors outside the Steph/Draymond/Klay triumvirate. Barnes scored 21 points on 13 shot attempts, Ezeli looked good in limited minutes and Andrew Bogut had one of his best performances of the second half of the season.
The core is still the core but those guys and Iguodala provide the buffer for any shakiness from Curry, Green and Thompson. When the Warriors lost in San Antonio, we justifiably focused on off nights from Steph and Klay but Barnes struggled as well while Bogut, Iguodala and Ezeli did not play at all. A few strong single game spots from them could be enough to survive some poor performances and/or heavy turnover games.
One important aspect to consider is that there is a difference between a present understanding and firm expectation. Through three games, the Warriors have meaningfully outplayed the Spurs and San Antonio’s offensive struggles in a series with the Warriors may be their largest unresolved issue. That understanding is legitimate but a reflection of what we have seen rather than a definitive part of the future. Pop is notorious for holding back late in the season and could have lineups, schemes or both that make these three games less representative of what May will look like. However, the structural limitations of their current roster can be mitigated but not eliminated. Danny Green will not show off ballhandling he has been hiding for months and Tim Duncan will not improve the cybernetics in his legs to improve his ability to defend in space. (well, I won’t write that one off)
Either way, get ready for Sunday because if both teams actually care about winning it could be a truly special contest.