The Warriors stole one in San Antonio and some Spurs fans are freaking out. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have looked unstoppable for quarters at a time and the Spurs' offense has sputtered, so it's understandable. But it's important to remember that the series is simply tied. Not every series will be a sweep.
It's also important to remember that the Spurs were in these games even though they couldn't hit open shots and the Warriors had some unusual performances propelling them. Yes, Warriors fans, Curry and Thompson are good and either can score 30+ on a game. But going 8-9 from three is not normal and neither is hitting tough shot after tough shot.
That being said, the Spurs need to be proactive and make some adjustments if they want to steal one at Oracle Arena instead of only hoping the Warriors back court goes back to being human. Here are some suggestions:
If he is healthy enough to play, Splitter needs to start
The Spurs started Borris Diaw in game one and Matt Bonner in game two after starting Tiago Splitter for most of the season and then Baynes when Tiago went down. It's likely both Splitter and Diaw are still hurting a bit and Pop probably started Bonner to go against Ezeli, which was not a bad plan. But with Mark Jackson starting Draymond Green, it made little sense keeping Bonner in there. Pop adjusted and went small with Neal in for Bonner in the second half.
Since Pop doesn't know if Jackson will start Ezeli, Green or even Landry, game planning to counter the Warriors lineup is much, much harder. So the Spurs need to put a lineup they are comfortable with instead of adjusting to what Golden State does. If Splitter is healthy enough, he should start. The Spurs were fantastic on defense with Splitter on the court all season long and going big might allow the Spurs to close out more aggressively, since there will be two bigs to deter penetration.
I also think it could allow the Spurs to defend the pick and roll better, as either Splitter or Duncan could show hard to prevent a quick shot or even switch with the knowledge that there's another seven footer protecting the rim and rebounding.
Go big and try to make Barnes beat you from outside
Remember the last regular season game between these two teams? Bonner started at small forward and since Mark Jackson always tries to exploit match-up advantages, the Warriors went to Barnes early and often. Unfortunately, Barnes is not at a point in his career where he can be an effective first option. Bonner sagged from him and dared him to shoot or funneled him towards help.
When the Spurs go small that doesn't work because Barnes will try to post up. But if the Spurs go to a three big lineup for a couple of minutes when the Warriors haven't gone small yet, Jackson might call for Barnes to get the ball. Any possession in which the ball is off of Curry's hands is a good one for the Spurs and they could have the advantage on the offensive glass. This is only a strategy for short spurts but it might help the Spurs more than only going small.
Don't get suckered into ISO-ball
Just like the Warriors were duped into throwing the ball to Barnes in that game I was referencing, the Spurs are forcing one on one situations in this series. It was not rare for one of the guards, usually Parker but occasionally Manu, to get a switch off a screen and try to score on the big. Now, Parker can blow past most players, big or small, but what the Warriors do is give him room, knowing he won't pull up from three. Then they backpedal enough to prevent penetration and concede the mid-range shot. If Parker's jumper is on he can still make them pay but if it isn't the Spurs take bad shots while convinced it was the right decision.
I know I always keep coming back to this but in those situations the Spurs should involve the other big on a pick and roll set. Not only are you drawing out both big men but you are also involving one in a situation he is not comfortable with, as big men don't usually defend the ball handler on P&R sets. The worse that can happen is they switch again but like I mentioned, now both bigs are out on the perimeter. Even when you get a good match-up, just keep executing instead of forcing things.
For the love of all that is holy, try some 1-3 pick and rolls on the left side
Again, I know I keep coming back to this but that's because I think it could be so good for the Spurs' offense. A Parker-Leonard pick and roll with the floor well spread could be deadly. It could yield open looks for both players and it could get the defense moving with the big man overloading the strong side. Then the Spurs could find some gaping holes on the weak side defense if they revert the ball fast enough.
But perhaps more importantly, it could result in switches. If Thompson is on Parker and Barnes on Leonard it makes sense for the Warriors to switch rather than involve Barnes in the nuances of pick and roll coverage. When they do, the Spurs could try to feed the ball to Leonard on the post where he could try and get a foul from Thompson. And if it's done early, it could even allow Parker to run a regular set with a lesser defender on him.
Try to create turnovers
The Spurs were a relatively fast paced team during the regular season, not unlike the Warriors. But just like the Warriors they weren't particularly good at getting fast break points. In the past two games, though, the Spurs have outscore Golden State in fast break points by a combined 21 points. Surprisingly, the Warriors are faring better than the Spurs in the half court but the Spurs can hurt them in the open court when they can attack off turnovers.
The Warriors did a remarkable job of avoiding TOs in game two but they have been turnover prone all season and in game one they coughed it up 21 times. It's not the Spurs way to gamble and overplay passing lanes but it could help to do it a bit. Leonard and Ginobili are good at attacking passing angles and at swiping at the ball while helping. If they can be more successful at it, the Spurs could get some easy points. Similarly, Duncan is usually good at stripping the big man he is guarding and DeJuan Blair has quick hands that could disrupt the Warriors offense if given a shot.
I'm not saying the Spurs need to change their defensive philosophy dramatically but sticking someone else on Curry and letting Kawhi be off the ball more and giving Blair some minutes to see if he can get a quick steal could allow the Spurs to exploit one of the Warriors' flaws and shift the momentum.
Make shots and don't leave shooters open
I think all those adjustments I just mentioned could help but, like always, it comes to scoring and not getting scored on. If the Spurs hit their open looks, especially from three, they should be able to hang with the Warriors even when one of their guys goes bananas. The past two games showed us that, as good as they are, the Warriors slow down eventually. They are a young team with little playoff experience that depends on hot shooting; that hasn't changed. It will be on the Spurs to limit the damage their stars make and hit timely shots when the opportunity to get the win presents itself.
Stats via NBA.com/Stats