Author: Darius Soriano

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs - Game Two

Preview: Warriors need better performances from Curry and Thompson to hold off elimination against Spurs


A closeout game is always the hardest win to get in a series. This is especially true when battling on the road and even more so when that road environment is one of the most raucous in the league. The Spurs, then, have their hands full when they visit Oracle Arena in Oakland and try to end the Warriors’ season in game 6.

But this isn’t as much about what the Spurs need to do in order to win, but what the Warriors need to do in order to avoid going down on their home floor. They can expect their fans to give them that extra boost, but in the end they’ll need their core players to step up and provide the production on the floor to extend this series to a 7th game.

What this really means is getting more production from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Both have had one huge game in this series, but have faltered in recent contests. In game 5 the duo combined for only 13 points on 6-22 shooting, struggling to escape the pressure defense the Spurs threw at them all night. The question, though, is whether the Warriors have the ability to crack San Antonio’s defensive code and get them that space they need to hit shots.

Curry is still clearly affected by his sprained left ankle and hasn’t shown his normal burst or ability to change directions to get separation to shoot his jumper. When the Warriors run pick and rolls, he is being crowded by the hedging big man while also being chased over the top of picks by his own defender. Meanwhile Thompson is being hounded all over the floor by Kawhi Leonard, getting chased off the three point line and challenged when he pulls up for his mid-range jumper or when he tries to drive all the way to the rim.

I don’t see the Spurs changing their approach with either player and that puts the onus on head coach Mark Jackson and the players themselves to make the proper adjustments this game. Continuing to try and push the pace in order to attack before the Spurs get set defensively will help. As will running more off ball screen sets for both in order to free them up. But if Curry and Thompson can’t get it going, even if Jarrett Jack and Harrison Barnes continue to play well, it will be too difficult for Golden State to get the win.

For the Spurs, they simply must continue to refine what they’re doing on both sides and make the Warriors work on every possession. If they can continue to execute and play with the discipline they’ve had for most of the series, I see them making it very hard on the Warriors in this game.

The Warriors aren’t going to give up and their home crowd will prop them up when things go poorly and elevate them higher if they play well. But the Spurs look to be the better team at this point and if they stick to the plan they’ve deployed over the last couple of games, I don’t see that changing.

Kawhi Leonard puts Harrison Barnes on a poster (VIDEO)

Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard isn’t a flashy player. In fact, the next time you see him make a fuss about anything on the floor or try to draw attention to himself will be the first time.

Most of the time you see him doing the little things that make the Spurs offense work the way it needs to. He spots up in the corner and knocks down corner threes, comes off screens to curl into the paint where he can hit little jumpers, and he can even run the pick and roll every once and while to create a good shot for himself or a teammate. He’s a steady player who brings a fundamentally sound game to the floor and knows how to deploy it.

But just because he’s mostly a low key player who plays his role to a tee doesn’t mean he can’t make the spectacular play. Something that Harrison Barnes found out all too well in the Spurs game 5 win over the Warriors.

After the Spurs forced a steal, Leonard changed ends wonderfully and received a great lead bounce pass from Danny Green. After making the catch, Leonard took two big strides, rose up, and dunked right over the top of Barnes. Watching it live it looked like a very good dunk, but in slow motion you really get the full effect.

Leonard’s poise and patience have been on full display these playoffs and he continues to make his name as an up and coming talent with star potential. If he keeps making plays like the one above, that recognition will come even faster.

Tony Parker’s big game leads Spurs to game 5 victory over Warriors

Spurs guard Parker drives on Warriors forward Barnes and guard Curry during their NBA basketball game in San Antonio, Texas

One thing this series hasn’t had is a blowout. Game 5 changed that as the Spurs turned up their defensive pressure and got some key performances from some role players to rout the Warriors 109-91 and get within a game of advancing to the conference finals for the 2nd straight season.

The star of the night was Tony Parker who poured in 25 points while also handing out 10 assists. Parker was aggressive and efficient (making 9 of his 16 shots), attacking the paint off the dribble where he was able to convert 5 of his 7 shots at the rim. Parker rarely settled for a long jumper, instead keeping the pressure on the Warriors’ defense and either creating for himself or drawing multiple defenders and hitting teammates for open shots.

Parker’s assertiveness was key in helping the rest of his teammates get good looks, especially the role players who struggle to create offense for themselves. A key beneficiary was Danny Green who, after struggling for the past three games, found his stride in this game by finding space from the outside for his jumper and getting out in transition to finish at the rim. Green finished the night with 16 points on 6-10 shooting (2-5 from behind the arc) and made his mark with his tireless work off the ball.

Also huge was Kawhi Leonard whose poise and patience served him well in creating good offensive looks. Leonard only missed one of his eight shot attempts, scoring 17 points in the process. Leonard did damage from inside and out, finishing at the rim in the open court (including a fantastic dunk over Harrison Barnes) while also hitting three shots from behind the arc.

While the Spurs were getting contributions from their role players, so were the Warriors. Jarrett Jack had his second straight good game, scoring 20 points on 16 shots including several big baskets that kept the Spurs from running away with the game even earlier than they did. Harrison Barnes also stepped up big, scoring a team high 25 points (10-18 shooting) and becoming the first rookie since Tim Duncan to reach that 25 point threshold in back to back playoff games.

But while Barnes and Jack had very good nights, the Warriors’ starting backcourt played quite poorly.

Stephen Curry only had 9 points on 4-14 shooting, struggling to create space on his jumper and losing his burst as the game advanced. The Spurs attacked Curry masterfully at the other end of the floor, running him off countless screens and wearing him down in the process. Having to work so hard while on that not yet healed left ankle surely played a part in his struggles.

Thompson, meanwhile, never got in a rhythm and struggled to escape the clutches of Leonard’s suffocating defense all night. It wasn’t just that he went 2-8 from the floor, failing to get to shoot a three pointer or a free throw in the process, but that he was held to such a low shot output and mostly erased as an option all evening. Thompson hasn’t been great since his game 2 explosion, but when he’s engaged and involved in the offense, good things happen for the Warriors. Tonight, though, he was mostly invisible.

And with their two key offensive performers struggling, the Warriors simply couldn’t generate the points they needed to keep pace. As the game advanced, they had to press more and more to get into their offensive sets. Their struggles devolved into sloppy, turnover prone action that enabled the Spurs to get easy buckets and blow the game open.

So here the Warriors are, facing elimination for the first time these playoffs. They’ve yet to lose back to back games in the post-season and in order to stay alive, they’ll need to avoid doing so when game 6 rolls around. It’s not a question if they have the fortitude to do so, but whether or not they’ve simply hit that wall after battling further than many thought they could.

The Spurs, on the other hand, are looking to slam the door on another opponent, finding and exploiting the cracks in their foe to advance another round. They’ll be facing a raucous crowd and a team fighting for their lives, but you get the feeling that with their experience they know exactly what they’re in for.

Preview: Spurs look to put Warriors on the edge of elimination in crucial Game 5

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors - Game Four

How important is this game 5 to both teams? Historically, in the NBA, the team that goes up 3-2 wins the series 85.7% of the time. And while that’s not necessarily a doom’s day scenario for the loser, it’s pretty close.

For the Warriors, it may be even more important as it’s hard to see them winning a game 7 on the road in San Antonio. If they can claim this game, they get a chance to close out the veteran Spurs in Oakland, in front of a raucous crowd that can carry them for long stretches.

Getting to play for that chance will be easier said than down, however.

The Warriors have seemingly been at their best all playoffs when they play small. In game 4, Mark Jackson’s hand was forced in that direction as he saw nearly every one of his big men get into foul trouble. This forced Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green into the power forward slot, putting more quickness and defensive versatility on the floor which, in turn, helped contain the Spurs’ dribble penetration game.

Will Jackson go this route on his own tonight? If he does, he can use the speed and playmaking ability of Barnes and Green respectively to help turn the tempo of the game in his team’s favor. Those skills will be especially needed if Stephen Curry is still feeling the affects of his sprained left ankle.

Jackson deployed Curry brilliantly in game 4, monitoring his minutes closely and getting the most out of him in the process. That said, part of Curry’s effectiveness was related to having Tony Parker guard him most of that game and, tonight, that’s likely to change. Danny Green has been a thorn in Curry’s side all series and even if it forces mismatches in other areas, expect for Curry to receive maximum defensive attention even if he’s still hobbled.

The other key to the Warriors’ attack will be how Jarrett Jack performs. His 24 points in game 4 were key to Golden State keeping the game close and ultimately winning in overtime. However, Jack’s shaky play in game 3 helped the Spurs claim that game. If Jack can make shots and channel his aggressive play into good production, he can be a major X-factor.

For the Spurs, they need better play from their role players. Since scoring 22 points on 8-14 shooting in game 1, Danny Green has only scored 23 points total over the next 3 games while only making 9 of his 28 shots. The Spurs need Green’s outside shooting to give Duncan and Parker space to operate in the paint.

And speaking of Duncan, he must also find a way to be more productive than the 7-22 shooting effort he posted in game 4. Andrew Bogut is doing a fantastic job of pushing Duncan off his spots, forcing him to work further from the hoop and then challenging his shots expertly. Duncan needs to start to hit his outside jumper and then use that threat to drive hard to the rim where he can either draw fouls or get shots closer to the rim.

San Antonio could also use another good game from Manu Ginobili. His 21 points in 37 minutes in game 4 helped counter the poor shooting nights from Tony Parker and Duncan and a repeat performance would go a long way towards helping the Spurs claim this one. Ginobili hasn’t been his most consistent this season, but he’s long been a big game player and this game certainly qualifies as that.

At this point, accurately predicting what will happen in any game is a fools errand. After it’s all said and done, the game could just as easily be decided on a great game by one of the stars as much as a role player. Such has been the way of this series, making it the most entertaining match up so far. As a fan, I just want another great game.

Considering what’s at stake for both teams, I think we’ll get it.

With a gut-check overtime win, Warriors even series with Spurs

Warriors' Curry is congratulated by fans and team mate Barnes in the Warriors' overtime win over the Spurs during Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final playoff basketball game in Oakland

If you listen to head coach Mark Jackson talk about his Warriors one thing becomes abundantly clear about the identity he wants his team to have. Jackson wants his team to play defense first and let the offense take care of itself via the virtues of his high potent outside shooting attack.

Today, Jackson got the first part of that equation in spades as his Warriors held the Spurs to 33 makes on 93 shots (35.5%), including a miserable 1-10 effort in overtime, en route to a series evening 97-87 win.

With the Warriors not shooting well either (35-92 from the floor), this game wasn’t a pretty one to watch. Both teams struggled early to find the rhythm of the game as the refs called a tight contest that needed adjusting to. Be it offensive fouls on moving picks, bumps on post ups, or hand checks on the perimeter, the flow of the game was choppy and neither team ever seemed to be able to get into a flow on offense.

With the whistle blowing frequently, the Spurs were able to capitalize when the entire Warriors’ big man rotation found themselves in foul trouble. Andrew Bogut picked up three fouls in the first period and with the Golden State’s defensive anchor on the bench San Antonio was able to carve out a lead heading into the 2nd half.

But, even with the Spurs taking advantage of a thin Warriors’ front-line they weren’t able to create the type of separation they needed to really break the game open. With the Warriors going small to compensate, they were able to better rotate around the perimeter and dig down into the post to keep the game closer than it should have been. When combined with a solid offensive output from Jarrett Jack (10 of his 24 points in the first half) and a few timely shots from Harrison Barnes the Warriors were able to hang around

And that was really the Spurs’ biggest issue in this game. While they showed early that they could build an advantage, the Warriors just continued to scrap and stay within striking distance. And by the time the 2nd half came around, all the Warriors needed was one sustained offensive push and they found themselves right back in the game.

This is where the ability of the Warriors to get contributions from multiple players on their roster was so huge. As mentioned, Jack was a key performer by scoring  24 points, including several big baskets in the 2nd half and overtime. Barnes, while not scoring that efficiently, was also important scoring a team high 26 points on a variety of post ups, pull up jumpers, and drives to the rim. Barnes didn’t score that efficiently — he needed 26 shots to get his 26 points — but his ability to work as a post up option in the half court gave his team a steadiness that they sorely needed.

One of the reasons they needed Barnes and Jack was because Curry simply couldn’t be the ball dominant human torch he’s made his name on these playoffs. Curry was still able to pour in 22 points on 7-15 shooting, but had to pick his spots more carefully as he was clearly still hampered by his bad left ankle. Don’t get me wrong, his points and shot making were still huge for his team, but those other guys gave the Warriors a balance and diversity that was so important.

Meanwhile, the Spurs simply couldn’t muster the offense they needed to hold off the Dubs. Manu Ginobili was mostly fantastic in scoring 21 points on 8-18 shooting but did most of his damage in the 1st half. Tim Duncan never did establish a good flow, only hitting 7 of his 22 shots to score his 19 points. And Tony Parker, who was also clearly still bothered by his bad calf, needed 17 shots to score his 17 points and wasn’t as aggressive in getting into the paint.

So here the Warriors are, tied 2-2 heading back to Texas where they’ve already proven they can win. If this series has taught us anything about them it’s that they play well beyond their years and have enough talent to hang with the old guard Spurs. Whether they can actually pull off the upset in this series remains to be seen, but this game at least showed they’re not going to fold anytime soon.