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The Spurs may have a path to victory over Warriors

The Spurs took advantage of a tired, short-handed Warriors team, controlling the pace and grinding out the win with smothering defense, dominant rebounding and post play in what could be a template for defeating the Warriors.

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Spurs 87, Warriors 79 - Mar 19, '16

The Spurs secured their biggest win of the season, handing the historically great Warriors just their 7th loss of the season. Before digging into the numbers, let's toss out a few caveats:

  1. Golden State was without the services of Festus Ezeli, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut.
  2. The Warriors were coming off a hard-fought contest in Dallas the night before
  3. The Spurs enjoyed home court advantage.

Now that we've got those out of the way, let's relish what was probably the sweetest victory of the season.

While Golden State could certainly have benefited from the services of Iguodala and Ezeli, the absence of Bogut was almost completely mitigated by Pop's decision to sit Duncan for all but 8 (ineffective) minutes of the game. When Bogut and Duncan are healthy, most of their minutes will coincide. When the Warriors play small-ball, as they did for almost the entire game this time, it's hard for Tim Duncan to see the court with the frantic switching and perimeter defense such lineups necessitate. Except Duncan to play a much larger role in a potential playoff series.

The first thing that jumps out at me about this game was the Spurs' lockdown defense against the Warriors' league-best backcourt. Steph Curry had a downright miserable night and Klay Thompson wasn't any better as the pair combined to go just 11-38 from the field. Danny, Patty, Tony and Kawhi hounded Curry, and the Spurs switched on just about every screen, even off-ball.

When Spurs bigs were forced to switch onto Curry, they guarded him tightly, taking away the three and daring him to drive past them. That gamble paid off, as Steph - probably exhausted after playing 34 minutes the night before - proved unable to do so. Curry instead opted to fire away, and came up almost empty-handed with a 1-12 showing from deep.

While a 25% Golden State 3pt FG% is always a fortunate outcome, the Spurs did everything in their power to force that number lower, and it's good to see that the league's best 3pt defense is at least capable of bothering the league's best 3pt offense.

Three point shooting aside, the Spurs garnered one other significant advantage - rebounding, and an equally significant disadvantage - ball control.

With the Warriors opting to play small, San Antonio countered with a healthy dose (35 minutes!) of Boris Diaw, and matched Aldridge on the smaller Draymond Green at Center for most of the game. The San Antonio size advantage yielded big dividends on the glass, as the Spurs doubled up the Warriors in offensive rebounds (14 to 7) and second chance points (24 to 12).

Spurs fans have hoped for months that a Warriors small-ball lineup could be punished inside with superior size, and while this game was the first evidence we've seen that this could be the case, it was accomplished not with the Spurs' standard Twin Towers lineup, but with an Aldridge/Diaw/Leonard frontcourt for which the Warriors had no answer. Kawhi in particular was ferocious on the boards, notching 14 including 6 offensive, and abusing the likes of Klay Thompson inside, and Boris Diaw produce 14 points on 7 shots and grabbed 8 rebounds as undersized Warriors were powerless to resist his buttery inertia.

The Spurs rebounding advantage was largely negated by another very sloppy showing in ball control, as the Spurs turned it over 17 times to Golden State's 10, a 7 possession difference which exactly matched San Antonio's hard-won rebounding advantage. The Spurs need to figure out how to hold onto the darn ball against the Warriors. A 20%turnover rate just isn't going to cut it 90% of the time.

Another encouraging aspect of the game was San Antonio's ability to dictate pace. The Silver and Black slowed this one down to an outright glacial pace of just 90 possessions, 6 fewer than the Spurs' average and 12 fewer than the Warrior's preferred pace of 102. Forcing their methodical pace on the run-and-gun Warriors will be a big key for San Antonio in their 2 remaining regular season matchups and presumed playoff rendezvous.

While the Spurs were able to limit the Warriors in their own end, holding Golden State to a season-low 79 points, they struggled to put the ball through the basket effectively on the other end of the court. The Spurs managed just a 46% effective field goal percentage, hitting on just 42.1% of their 2 point attempts. In a game where neither team was ever able to find much of an offensive rhythm, the Spurs largely prevailed with superior individual play from their two stars.

I've noted before that the Spurs are still at their offensive peak when they play a version of the "Beautiful Game," with crisp ball movement and open looks from a large cast of seemingly interchangeable players. But while recent iterations of the Spurs have relied on this style of play, this year's team is capable of pounding out victories on the backs of two of the league's best individual scorers. Throwing the ball to Kawhi and LaMarcus will probably never produce quite the ceiling of the Beautiful Game version of the Spurs, but it can almost always be relied upon to produce acceptable results, irrespective of the team's offensive rhythm.

What we saw in the Spurs' 86-79 takedown of the Warriors was exactly that: a San Antonio team that prefers sharing the ball and still ranks 6th in assist percentage at 61.4% assisted on just 53.1% of their scores. In a slow, physical game where defenses had their way and neither offense could maintain any kind of a rhythm, it was San Antonio that prevailed with isolation sets which, while not particularly efficient, cannot be denied by a defense, however locked in.

So we see what could become a template for a Spurs triumph: smothering, switching three point defense, bullying inside play by a larger Spurs frontcourt and a grinding pace limiting the momentum on which the Warriors thrive. What feels like an inevitable showdown of historic proportions is still months away, but if this game was any indication of what that series might look like, it's going to make for some compelling basketball.

Four Factors (def.)

Spurs Warriors
Shooting (eFG%) 46% 43%
Ball Handling (TO%) 20% 12%
Off Rebounding (OR%) 32% 15%
Shooting FTs (FT Rate) 23% 12%

Team Stats (Definitions at bottom of post)

Spurs Warriors
Pace (No. of Possessions) 90.2
Points Per Possession (PPP) 0.96 0.88
Points Per Shot (PPS) 1.12 0.96
2-PT FG% 42.1% 47.8%
3-PT FG% 38.1% 25.0%
FT% 83.3% 80.0%
True Shooting % 50.6% 45.7%
Offensive Rating 96.8 87.4
Defensive Rating 87.4 96.8
Net Rating 9.4 -9.4
Spurs Warriors
Passes / poss. 3.6 3.3
% of FGA uncontested 42.3% 52.4%
Points in the paint 36 32
Second chance points 24 12
Fast break points 4 11
Spurs Warriors
Assists 17 24
Steals 4 12
Turnovers 17 10
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.24 3.60
Spurs Warriors
Expected Offensive Rebounds 11.0 11.5
Offensive Rebounds 14 7
Difference 3.0 -4.5

Spurs Shot Chart

Warriors Shot Chart

Players (Definitions at bottom of post, columns sortable)


LaMarcus Aldridge 37 23.1 0.62 26 Pts (11-25 FG, 4-4 FT) 13 Reb (3 Off), 1 Stl, 2 TO, 2 PF 35% 49% 107.0 90.0 16.9
Kawhi Leonard 39 21.4 0.55 18 Pts (5-14 FG, 1-3 3PT, 7-8 FT) 14 Reb (6 Off), 4 Ast, 2 Blk, 4 TO, 4 PF 26% 48% 101.3 89.0 12.3
Boris Diaw 35 20.8 0.59 14 Pts (6-7 FG, 2-2 FT) 8 Reb (1 Off), 2 Ast, 1 Blk, 1 Stl, 2 TO, 2 PF 13% 73% 112.6 81.0 31.7
Danny Green 32 13.3 0.42 10 Pts (4-10 FG, 1-5 3PT, 1-2 FT) 4 Reb (1 Off), 2 Ast, 3 Blk, 1 Stl, 1 TO 17% 45% 115.7 84.7 31.0
Manu Ginobili 18 6.3 0.34 9 Pts (3-5 FG, 3-5 3PT ) 3 Reb (0 Off), 1 Stl, 3 TO, 3 PF 21% 35% 61.9 89.8 -27.9
Tony Parker 29 3.9 0.13 6 Pts (2-8 FG, 2-4 3PT ) 3 Reb (0 Off), 6 Ast, 2 TO, 4 PF 16% 39% 113.1 92.3 20.7
Kyle Anderson 10 0.3 0.03 0 Pts (0-1 FG, ) 4 Reb (0 Off), 1 Ast, 1 TO 9% 18% 46.6 92.9 -46.3
Patty Mills 21 0.1 0.01 3 Pts (1-5 FG, 1-4 3PT ) 1 Reb (1 Off), 1 Ast, 3 PF 11% 30% 82.9 83.1 -0.3
Kevin Martin 3 0.0 0.00 0 Pts , 0% 0% 33.3 66.7 -33.3
David West 8 -0.6 -0.07 0 Pts (0-2 FG, ) 1 Reb (0 Off), 1 Ast, 11% 21% 64.3 119.0 -54.8
Tim Duncan 8 -1.6 -0.20 1 Pts (0-1 FG, 1-2 FT) 2 Reb (2 Off), 2 TO, 1 PF 24% 14% 55.9 67.4 -11.5

Show Warriors Players

Spurs Index: 95.7 (def.)

Factor Value Score
Passing (AST%) 53.1% 25.7
Shooting (eFG%) 46.2% 17.2
Defensive Rebounding (DReb%) 84.8% 22.2
Defense (DefRtg) 87.4 22.9
Opponent % of FGA Uncontested 52.4% 7.8
Total 95.7

Warriors Spurs Index: 101.7 Show Breakdown

Confused? Show Advanced Stats Glossary