Once again, the Spurs are one of the best teams in the West and the Warriors come to town as major underdogs. Is the 29th time the charm? Will the streak end tonight?
San Antonio will be without All-Star point guard Tony Parker, which figures to help the Warriors (they’ve been starting Corey Joseph at point). But what must the Warriors do to pull it out at the Alamo and head home with a 3-0 road trip? Here are five keys …
1. Big game from Stephen Curry
Simply put, the Warriors need a spectacular performance. They need someone to carry them. The Spurs defense is good enough to defend the Warriors straight up. Golden State needs something to get San Antonio out of character. That’s where Curry comes in. If he goes off, it’s going to force the Spurs to adjust (trap him, or put Leonard or someone on him) and that creates the kind of openings the other Warriors will need.
The Spurs are 6-11 when an opposing players scores more than 25. Only two players have topped 30 in San Antonio this year: Damian Lillard (35 in a win) and James Harden (33 in a loss).
2. Defend the perimeter
Yes, they have Tim Duncan, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, inside and playing like he;s 24. But the Spurs really hurt you with their shooting. They execute like Chef Morimoto with a sashimi knife, which leads to open shots. And the Spurs have a lot of shooters. Of their top 13 players in minutes, 10 are shooting 45 percent or better from the field. And that doesn’t include Manu Ginobili or Gary Neal, who can light it up.
San Antonio is 2nd in the NBA in field goal percentage (48.8), third in true shooting percentage (57.6), third in assist percentage (63.8) and fourth in 3-point percentage (38.0). Closing out on shooters and limiting open looks is a must.
As the better rebounding team, the Warriors should be able to close out the possession if they force a miss. San Antonio is 29th in offensive rebound percentage and average a league-low 8.0 offensive boards per game.
3. Push the tempo
The Warriors play much better in transition than in half-court — especially against good half-court defenses like the Spurs. The Spurs are 20th in fast-break points allowed. Pushing the tempo won’t be too hard against the Spurs, who aren’t as slow a team as their reputation might suggest. San Antonio is game to run. San Antonio is 6th in points in the paint, 8th in points in the paint, and 12th in fast-break points.
Golden State has had some real problems coming out of halftime. The Warriors have been outscored by 67 points in third quarters this season. That can’t happen Wednesday. The Spurs tend to get better as the game progresses. They are second in the NBA having outscored opponents by a total of 255 points in the second half. Conversely, Golden State is +2 after halftime. The Warriors cannot afford to play from behind, especially in the fourth quarter.
Mark Jackson has to hold his own against Gregg Popovich in the Xs and Os department. He’s probably not going to out-coach Popovich, but he can’t get taken to the woodshed, either. His usage of timeouts, the creativity of his play calling, his second-half adjustments and his late-game management of fouls and rotations will all be big factors.
5. Contain the supporting cast
When someone from the Spurs not named Duncan, Parker or Ginobili scores at least 20 points, San Antonio is 15-2. The Big Three, in this case the Big Two (Duncan and Manu Ginobili) are going to get theirs. The Warriors can’t allow a big game by Danny Green, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw or DaJuan Blair. The feast on teams who focus too much on the Big Three.
The last two games, the Warriors have cut down on the over-helping and have been much better about making timely, focused rotations. They’ll need to keep that up. If one of the extras go off, the Warriors are in trouble.