NBA fans will finally get the matchup they’ve been clamoring for since the Warriors became a league power when Golden State clashes with the San Antonio Spurs starting Sunday in Oakland.
It will be the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs since 2013, when the Spurs beat the Mark Jackson-led Warriors 4-2 in the second round.
The Spurs won the 2016-17 regular season series 2-1, but the only game where both teams had their full squads was opening night, a night the Warriors would like to forget.
But both teams are vastly different from what they were at the beginning of the season. So how do they match up now?
When Tony Parker went down with a career-threatening injury in early in the Rockets series, many people thought the Spurs were done.
But if you’ve watched San Antonio at all this season, you’re aware that Parker not only isn’t who he used to be, but he might be one of the worst starting point guards in the league.
So Parker being forced to miss the rest of the playoffs is probably a blessing for the Spurs, coincidentally just like in the 2013 playoffs, when David Lee was forced to miss time due to injury, letting Draymond Green take over for him.
The more pressing injury news for the Spurs is Kawhi Leonard, after he missed Game 6 due to his ankle injury. He’ll be tasked with carrying the Spurs offensively alongside guarding Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry at times, so less than full health is a win for the Warriors.
The narrative used to be that the Spurs and the Warriors play such a similar, pass-first style. Used to be.
This year, the Spurs have turned into an iso-machine with Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. This has been especially true in the playoffs, where 48.5 percent of San Antonio’s field goals have been unassisted, fourth-highest in the playoffs and just a fraction of a percent below Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.
The Warriors, on the flip side, sport the second-lowest percentage of unassisted baskets at 33.8 percent. And we saw just how ineffective an isolation-based offense could be in the last series, where the Utah Jazz went minutes without a clean look against the Warriors defense.
Combine that with the fact that Green absolutely owns Aldridge. Since he joined the Spurs in 2015, Aldridge has averaged just 18.1 points on 45 percent shooting, and is a minus-10.8 in six games against Golden State.
Matchup to Watch
Draymond Green vs. Whoever
Green has been absolutely the Warriors best player on both ends of the court thus far during the playoffs.
But it’s going to be interesting to see who he gets matched up against, as the Spurs can play both big and small. In the regular starting lineup we’d probably see him matched up with Aldridge while Zaza Pachulia would go against Pau Gasol.
But they can also go small with Leonard or Jonathon Simmons at the four, which would either force the Warriors to go small as well or move Green off of Aldridge.
Where it gets really interesting, though, is when Green plays in that second quarter bench unit. It’s conceivable he would be matched up with Lee, who’s been playing a lot of minutes lately. And that’s a matchup Green can absolutely punish, especially in the pick-and-roll, which is all too familiar for Warriors fans of old.
If that’s the case, look for that bench unit to perhaps find an offensive rhythm, something they’ve been lacking the past two series.
Important Role Player
For as well as JaVale McGee and Pachulia have played this postseason, this series might not be for them. The Spurs use a traditional center almost never.
Gasol comes the closest, but he can step out and shoot from deep. Gregg Popovich, though, has had Gasol on a very short leash, especially when he doesn’t close out on 3-point shooters.
That means the Warriors bigs are going to have to either guard Aldridge, or they’ll have to lean on their more mobile big man.
Now that doesn’t mean West can stop the perimeter game of the Spurs bigs, but he can give them a solid, smart post player who can guard screens better than Pachulia and won’t take the chances that McGee does.
West can also punish bigs on the opposite end and make them honor his jumper, which he’s shot at a 53 percent clip in the playoffs while also delivering money passes to cutters, most of them to Ian Clark.
If West can continue his strong play and buy minutes for Green at center, this could be a short series.
Let’s just get to the main course already. Warriors in 4, Cavs in 4. Finals start on May 26 at Oracle Arena.