The San Antonio Spurs are undeniably incredible this year. They're a team that has won 5 championships, and had countless good years before, but this is their winningest season. Heck, they're such a fantastic group that they've only lost one game at home.
These Spurs have a bevy of talent. There's the MVP candidate, Kawhi Leonard. The new addition that's doing everything to endear himself to this city, LaMarcus Aldridge. The 3 Hall-of-Famers (really, when everything is over, they might have 5 HoF guys on this team); Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. And all of that is without mentioning the talented role players. If you pit this team against any of the 5 San Antonio teams that won titles, this team would surely hold its own, and would probably beat a few of them.
And yet, this historically good team might not even have a shot to win the NBA Finals because they have to deal with a squad that's even better, the Golden State Warriors. These Spurs are a great team; the Warriors very well could be one of the greatest teams of all time.
Golden State runs up and down the floor, scoring on teams in the blink of an eye, then taking the ball away immediately to do it again. They reign over the entire league, and rain down 3 after 3. They have the best shooter ever in Steph Curry, the most weirdly-skilled forward of my lifetime in Draymond Green, another All-Star in Klay Thompson, and lights-out shooters at every position.
The Warriors, for all their ability, also have a chip on their shoulder the size of California. They invent slights at a Jordan-ian level, and use that as motivation for every team that they play. While the Spurs just try to get through the regular season to compete in the playoffs; the Warriors set out to annihilate records against any team, any time, anywhere. It's their impossible drive that has propelled them to such an incredible record.
At times, this season has felt purely academic. Golden State has looked so powerful that everyone else seemed to be playing for 2nd place. That very well may be the case, but the games still have to be played. Because in theory, on any night, anything can happen.
And if anyone is going to beat the Warriors in a 7-game series, it's the Spurs. They have the skill, and the strategic contrasts, to pull it off. San Antonio plays a slow-burn style of basketball, and tries to muck up the speed of the game versus uptempo teams like Golden State. The Spurs will dump the ball into the post, use the entire clock, and crash the offensive boards to give the Warriors as few chances to score as possible.
The Spurs have the best perimeter defender in the league in Leonard. They also have Danny Green, who excels as a half-court defender, but is also the best transition defender I've ever seen. If Green is the only man back against a fast-breaking Curry and company, then the Spurs at least have a chance of coming away with a stop.
It may not be likely, but he Spurs have the best chance of taking down this Goliath; and coach Gregg Popovich is surely already plotting some sort of diabolical plan. There's only one path forward for the Spurs to be remembered for being as great as they are, and that's by beating the Warriors. And they have some work to do before they earn the opportunity to play them again.
LaMarcus Aldridge - 24 points on 11-18 shooting, 10 rebounds, 1 block
Aldridge was the only Spur to have a good night scoring wise. His points came on tough looks in the post, but he was able to knock them down time and time again. He also crashed the boards hard to gave San Antonio some desperately-needed second and third chances throughout the game.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
72: Perhaps you've heard, but the Golden State Warriors tied the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' record for wins in a season. They've obviously been insanely good this season. For history's sake, hopefully they can take care of business versus the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday and break the record.
37: Points for the reigning MVP, Steph Curry. He was able to score well throughout the game, but he went nuclear in the 3rd quarter, where he tallied 16 of his points. His flurry had the Spurs' defense reeling, and ended up swinging the game.
18: Offensive boards for San Antonio. When playing the Warriors, the gameplan leans heavily on slowing the game down, and not letting them get out in transition for easy looks. One way to do that is to hit the offensive glass hard. The Spurs have done that well all year, and did so in this game, with 3 players grabbing at least 4 offensive boards. These extra chances supplemented a low-efficiency offensive attack with enough shot volume to keep the game close.
- San Antonio's defense was on point in the 1st half, as they only allowed Golden State to score 35 points. They found shooters in transition, played physically on the Warriors' ball-handlers, and generally made life tough for them. In the 2nd half, the defense wasn't bad for most of it, but for a stretch in the 3rd quarter lost Curry, and he made them pay for it. As easy as it is to say "They have to smother Curry every possession and not let him loose" that's such a hard task to take on, even if you have Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green defending. Curry is the best scorer in the game for a reason, and will turn a split-second of space into a 3-pointer. He's going to get his looks no matter how well you defend, and at some point, you just have to pray that he misses.
- Kawhi Leonard did not have a great scoring night as he went 7-22 for 20 points. The Warriors defended him well, but at some point, Leonard jut needed to make shots. He's what makes the Spurs go, and when the entire team (outside of LaMarcus Aldridge) struggles the way they did on Sunday, he has to be the one to step up. He's done that against other teams, but Golden State is something entirely different. If they face off in the playoffs, Leonard is going to have an extraordinary level of usage, and the Spurs' fate will rest on his scoring ability.
- Boris Diaw hasn't played in the last two matchups between the Spurs and Warriors, and looks to be the biggest x-factor in any potential playoff series. In that second game between the teams this year, Diaw started, and San Antonio got off to a tremendous start because of it. His versatility on defense, and creative, quick passing helps the Spurs out so much. If the Warriors go small, he can defend well, and if a smaller player switches onto him on offense, Boris will put the defender in a blender. I'm not sure if Diaw can give the Spurs enough of a punch to win a series, but the Frenchman gives San Antonio their best possible shot.