Author: Darius Soriano

Kawhi Leonard

Spurs ramp up defense to beat Warriors, advance to Western Conference Finals


The Warriors had a great run, but their magic ran out. In a hard fought, defense driven effort the Spurs defeated the Warriors 94-82 to advance to their 2nd consecutive Western Conference Finals.

Golden State battled all night, trying to stave off elimination but simply didn’t have enough.

Stephen Curry scored 22 points, but never found the range on his jumper while going 10-25 from the floor. Jarrett Jack tried his best to keep the Warriors in it by hitting half his 12 shots to score 15 points, but with off shooting nights from Klay Thompson (4-12, 10 points) and an awful fall that kept Harrison Barnes from finishing the game (while limiting him to 4-10 from the field), even the home crowd trying to will them to a win wasn’t enough to get them over the top.

Credit the Spurs for the Warriors’ inefficient output. As they’ve done over the past several games, San Antonio clamped down defensively and kept Golden State from ever finding a rhythm offensively. The Spurs hedged high in the pick and roll and funneled shooters into mid-range shots and flips at the rim, contesting nearly every look along the way. And while some of those attempts found the bottom of the net, those aren’t the types of shots the Warriors want to take nor are they the kind that can sustain a high powered attack to match what the Spurs were able to produce.

So the Warriors struggled all night to keep pace, falling behind by double digits multiple times throughout the contest. If not for some timely shot making, some inspired defense of their own, and a crowd that would not let them surrender, this game could have gotten out of hand.

So credit the Warriors too. They displayed a lot of heart and showed off the type of young talent that should keep them competitive for years to come. The future looks bright in the Bay Area.

But now is the Spurs’ time. The veteran group showed a combination of physical and mental toughness, displaying a discipline and adherence to their game plan that kept them a step ahead all night.

Tim Duncan was huge early, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the first half. With Tony Parker struggling to get into a flow, Duncan provided the ballast his team needed as both a scorer and a drawer of attention that opened up opportunities for others.

Kawhi Leonard was also big all night, hitting timely shots and while erasing Klay Thompson defensively. Nearly every single one of Leonard’s 16 points seemed to come on a big basket, as he hit jumpers to nip a potential Warrior run in the bud or converted a shot inside to bolster the Spurs lead.

And while Parker and Manu Ginobili struggled all night to score for themselves — they combined to shoot 4-22 from the floor for 18 points — they more than made up for it by creating good shots for others, tallying 19 assists between them. Both were so good in maintaining their aggressiveness off the dribble, threatening the defense and then picking out teammates for makable shots.

Of all the Spurs that deserve credit, though, head coach Gregg Popovich should receive a fair amount. As the series has advanced he’s made the right moves over and over again, putting his players in position to succeed. Down the stretch of this game he went small to spread the Warriors out, sitting Tim Duncan in the process. Pop relied on Tiago Splitter to man the middle and the big man delivered, playing strong defense on one end and occupying defenders as the dive man in the pick and roll on the other. Splitter’s activity was crucial in creating space on offense and taking it away on defense, allowing the Spurs to hold on down the stretch.

This truly was a fantastic series and, in a way, fans should feel a bit cheated that they didn’t get a game 7 to decide who should advance. But it wasn’t meant to be. The Warriors showed they had the heart, but they were just a bit too banged up and lacked that extra kick to break through.

Meanwhile the Spurs showed that they have that right mix of youth and veterans, talent, and coaching to get it done. Again.

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

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs - Game Two

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.