Preview: Spurs seek answers in game 3, but the Warriors keep changing the questions

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It’s not a stretch to say the Warriors have been the better team so far this series. They’ve led both contests for the majority of the minutes and it took an amazing comeback, two overtimes, and a last second three pointer for the Spurs to get their win. Heading back to Oakland, the Warriors have to be feeling good about themselves, home court advantage in their pocket and all the momentum on their side.

On the other side, the Spurs have to be wondering exactly what their next step will be in reclaiming their favored status. They’ve struggled to consistently produce points against a Warriors’ defense that has closed off the paint. Golden State’s ability to switch screens has left the Spurs’ motion attack devoid of the ball movement that they typically roast teams with. In response the Spurs — especially in game 2 — became more dependent on an isolation style that only led to 14 assists (in the regular season they averaged 25 a game).

And when they did isolate, they had trouble scoring against the versatility of the Warriors’ long, active wing defenders. For the series, when Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green share the floor the Warriors’ defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) is 85.5 per NBA.com. Backed up by bruising big men Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili, the Golden State’s perimeter defense has been fantastic.

Combine the Spurs’ offensive struggles with the Warriors’ ability to generate good looks on the other end of the floor and it’s not hard to see why the Spurs are in this predicament.

All is not lost for San Antonio, however. While the Warriors have seemingly solved the puzzle of how to slow down the Spurs’ attack, there are still adjustments that can be made. Quicker ball reversals out of their standard pick and roll sets can create good match ups on the weak side. When Tony Parker looks to attack off Tim Duncan screens, he can quickly swing the ball back to Duncan who can then run a secondary pick and roll with the wing on the opposite side of the floor — especially when that player is Manu Ginobili (who needs to find the range on his jumper quickly after needing 32 shots to score 28 points in the first two games).

This type of quick ball movement combined with screen actions can get the Warriors’ bigs moving side to side while also limiting the effectiveness of defensive switches.

Further, the Spurs can simply do what they’ve done all year by hitting some of the open shots they’re getting. In game 2, several uncontested jumpers clanked off the rim. If the Spurs hope to loosen up the Warriors’ defense, they have to turn some of those misses into makes. This will force the Warriors to rush out to the perimeter to contest shots and allow the Spurs’ wings to attack closeouts off the dribble and get easier baskets in the paint.

Where the Spurs may have bigger issues, however, is in slowing down Golden State’s offense. Someone always seems to step up for the Warriors — in game 1 it was Curry, game 2 it was Thompson — and that makes them difficult to scout and even harder to fully stop defensively.

The plan can start with forcing Curry to penetrate to finish rather than allowing him to take the deep jumpers he prefers to launch. Curry is a below average finisher at the rim and while those shots can often lead to offensive rebounds, it’s best to force him into positions where he’s less effective. If the Spurs need to pick their poison, 2nd chance opportunities from guys like Carl Landry or Festus Ezeli are less dangerous than a lava-hot Curry from behind the arc.

Similarly, they must run Thompson off the three point line and force him into help defenders where his shot will be better challenged. If Thompson and Curry can both be moderately controlled — a tough task, for sure — the Warriors chances of winning go down tremendously. That is unless Barnes, Green, and Jack aren’t making the majority of their shots.

And maybe that’s the Spurs’ biggest problem going into game 3. The Warriors, through their 8 playoff games, have proven to have enough fire power to score points even if one of their best players struggles. The Spurs, meanwhile, weren’t tested in the first round and are just now running into a quality opponent who can stretch them on both sides of the ball.

So while there is, theoretically, plenty of series left for the Spurs to figure things out, the time is now for them to start to make inroads. Another loss tonight will not bode well if they hope to advance to the conference finals for the second straight year.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.