The Spurs’ 92-113 Game 1 loss to the Golden State Warriors was dispiriting in a lot of ways for San Antonio fans, but there were a couple silver linings. First, JaVale McGee will likely not have another game like the one he had Saturday afternoon. The Warriors center not only scored his season-high in points with 15, but he did so by showing an unsustainable level of skill and decision-making. He wasn’t just hammering home dunks off of lobs. He was catching the ball out of pick-and-rolls while on the move, putting it on the floor and finishing with touch.
That’s far from perfect defense, but McGee isn’t good enough to consistently convert on those plays, especially when the series comes back to San Antonio where he won’t be able to feed off the crowd. In McGee’s 16 minutes, the Warriors outscored the Spurs by 62 points per 100 possessions, far and away the best net rating on the team. Don’t expect that to happen again, even without meaningful defensive adjustments. Danny Green reinforced that notion with his post game comments:
Danny Green, with an honest assessment of how come JaVale McGee was able to get going early: pic.twitter.com/8m3mBYcsYx— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 14, 2018
More importantly for San Antonio’s defense, Golden State shot unsustainably well on contested long twos. On Saturday, the Warriors took 21 “tightly contested” two-pointers from 10+ feet away, per NBA.com, accounting for more than 27% of their total shot attempts. They made a blistering 66.7% of those shots. For comparison, in the regular season, the Warriors only took 13% of their total shots as contested long twos, hitting on 47.8% of them (still the best mark in the league, but it’s not two-thirds). On this play below, a scorching hot Klay Thompson knocks down a fadeaway over Rudy Gay’s outstretched arm:
The Spurs’ defense was successful in terms of getting the Warriors to take less efficient shots. Golden State only attempted 18 field goals from within the restricted area, and made just 11 of them (61.1%). During the regular season, the Warriors took 25 shots per game within the restricted area and converted 68.3% of them, the second-best average in the league.
Yes, there were systematic defensive issues that the Spurs will need to address in Game 2. For one, Patty Mills cannot be expected to guard shooters with height like Thompson or Kevin Durant. He was simply helpless on too many possessions, despite being in good (or at least decent) position.
Per NBA.com’s matchup data, the guys Patty Mills defended went a combined 6-of-7 for 14 points, and it felt worse than that while watching. Going forward, Mills’s minutes will hopefully be more closely aligned with Quinn Cook, who played 25 minutes for the Warriors and is a much more reasonable matchup for him. Dejounte Murray will need to stay out of foul trouble to sop up some of Mills’s minutes.
The issue with playing Mills fewer minutes is it exacerbates the Spurs biggest problem in this series, and that’s scoring enough points to stay with Golden State. The Spurs finished Game 1 with a 91.5 offensive rating. Not a single team beat the Warriors this season with that low of an offensive rating (though the Boston Celtics did beat them with a 92.8 offensive rating, per Basketball Reference!). On Saturday, the Spurs attempted only 12 shots in the restricted area, making only five (41.7%). Their regular season averages were 25 shots per game in the restricted area, hitting on 64% of those tries. You have to give partial credit to the length of the Warriors’ rim protectors, but some of these layups were just flat out misses:
Even more troubling than the misses was the dearth of attempts at the rim. Instead, the Spurs settled for 28 midrange jumpers, where they actually shot two percentage points better than their season average. The issue was not that they were missing too many mid-range attempts, it’s that they were taking too many. The main cause of that being (and I know I’m preaching to the Spurs fan choir here) that San Antonio lacks dynamic playmaking off the dribble, and they have too many guys who do not need to be guarded on the perimeter. Watch on this play how Andre Iguodala completely abandons Tony Parker to double team Aldridge:
Aldridge, unable to see over McGee and Iguodala, sends a panicked heave towards the rim that never had a chance. On this play below, Iguodala again mostly ignores Parker (who was a team-worst -17 in his 13 minutes) to firmly plant himself in the paint:
Though Parker was just one pass away, Iguodala wasn’t worried about the three-point threat. As a result, he’s about a half step closer to the cutting Aldridge, which made Manu feel like he had to throw a low-probability laser in the perfect spot. There were more egregious examples of Golden State not guarding guys, but this one shows how even shading a little bit can matter possession to possession.
There are no easy answers when it comes to San Antonio’s offense. It will help when Golden State misses more of those contested twos. Per InPredictable, the Spurs really struggled to score following a Warriors made basket, netting just 0.88 points per possession (though they weren’t a ton better after a defensive rebound). Obviously, Aldridge will need to be better. He shot just 3-of-9 when JaVale McGee was the primary defender, which likely will not repeat itself. Aldridge is too good and smart to not figure out how to beat McGee.
Also, the Warriors outscored the Spurs 15-0 in second chance points, an area where they typically have the upper hand. Evening out that disparity will go a long way in making these next games more competitive. A lot of that will come down to out hustling and out competing the Warriors. The talent gap is too great between these two teams to allow Golden State to be the aggressor.