Admittedly, I underestimated Stephen Curry in the Denver series. I also overestimated the Nuggets. But I picked Denver in six mostly because I figured Curry could get 30 points and the Warriors still lose. It’s happened before.
What I didn’t account for was the impact stars make in playoffs series, good and bad. Their ability to change games, seize momentum, do the prolific, it matters so much more in the postseason. It’s not that Curry can score, it’s that he impacts nearly every single aspect of the game: how the opposing defense responds, the amount of pressure on the opposing offense to score, the confidence of the supporting cast, the looks they get, the adrenaline and feel good that helps on the defensive end, the momentum they create.
That’s what stars do in the playoffs. And Denver didn’t have that.
Such is factored into my prediction for this series: Spurs in 7.
My first impulse was to say San Antonio in five games. But I can’t shake the feeling the Warriors will win one in San Antonio. Why? Because that’s the type of thing stars pull off. And if the Warriors win one in San Antonio, this isn’t the route many are expecting. In the first meeting here, on Jan. 18, the Warriors trailed by 4 inside of three minutes – without Curry (Spurs didn’t have Manu Ginobili). In the second matchup at San Antonio, March 20, Golden State trailed by 4 inside of four minutes left. So both games were close. It’s not like this Warriors’ team can’t win in San Antonio.
Golden State is 2-0 against San Antonio in Oakland. Andrew Bogut didn’t play in either game, and Oracle wasn’t the ridiculously raucous arena it has been for the playoffs. Still, San Antonio is good enough to get one in Oracle. Especially if the Warriors steal one of the first two in San Antonio and put the Spurs in must-win mode. But will their role players be as good in such an environment?
Even if the Warriors lose the first two in San Antonio, I can certainly see the Warriors going 2-0 at Oracle and heading back to San Antonio for a pivotal Game 5.
Another reason I think this series will be close: Manu Ginobili is not the same Ginobili. He’s good enough to torch the Warriors for a big game. But over a seven-game series, his injuries and age might get the best of him. I certainly see the Warriors being able to manage him. If so, who’s the third scorer for the Spurs. It could be one of five people. But if the Warriors stay home, not fall into trapping and doubling so much, those extra guys can be held in check. After Ginobili, they’re relying on Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Gary Neal for offense. So if Bogut can guard Tim Duncan and keep the Warriors’ defense honest, and Klay Thompson can hold his own against Tony Parker, the Warriors are not in bad position.
Here is an in-depth look at the match-ups:
SPURS: Tony Parker
He is considered one of the best point guards in the league. He is arguably the best in the league at getting in the lane and finishing. Denver point guard Ty Lawson, who like Parker is quick and lives in the lane, hurt the Warriors. And Parker is even better.
“Tony has been awfully good for a long time now,” Jackson said. “I thought this year, he had every right to be in MVP discussion. I think he elevated his play, which is scary to say because he was a top-notch point guard before this.”
WARRIORS: Stephen Curry
The scary part about Curry is not that he averaged 24.3 points, 9.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game against Denver. It’s that he has areas he can still improve. He averaged 3.3 turnovers and struggled with his shot early in most games. If he puts it all together in this series, it could be scary.
“If he’s on a roll, I don’t think there’s a heck of a lot anyone can do anyway,” a scout told the San Antonio Express News. “What good is a scouting report when he shoots it so deep and gets it off so quick? I don’t have an answer for him, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.”
ADVANTAGE: Warriors. Parker will get his, but Curry is so dynamic, he impacts the game even when he’s having an off night.
SPURS: Tim Duncan
He’s one of the best all time, and he’ll have more than a week of rest by Game 1. That’s not good news for the Warriors. Duncan impacts the game on both ends. He can score with his back to the basket and stick the midrange jumper. He’s one of the best defensive big men in the league because of his smarts and his shot-blocking. And when the game’s on the line, he’s going to come through.
“He’s so good from 4 or 5 feet form the basket,” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. “If I can just make it 6 or 7 or 8 feet, make him go into that face-up game, make him work a bit harder for his shots, that will help.”
He had a monster Game 6, punctuating a surprisingly impressive first-round series. When he’s feeling good on his gimpy left ankle, he has the ability to control the paint. That will be key, since San Antonio is such a good inside team, ranking fifth in field goal percentage in the paint (41.9 percent) and at the rim (63.4 percent).
Bogut gave Golden State some offense, 8.2 points on 63 percent shooting. The Warriors can use more.
ADVANTAGE: Spurs. Jackson put it best: “Tim Duncan is Tim Duncan for a reason.”
The Sixth Men
SPURS: Manu Ginobili
He’s not the same dynamic player he once was, thanks to injuries, but he’s still good enough to hurt the Warriors severely. He looked good in the first-round sweep of the Lakers though he’d just returned from a hamstring injury. He’s susceptible on the defensive end, and he’s prone to cold streaks shooting. But if he’s getting in the paint, doing his awkward Ginobili thing, he could cause some foul trouble for Golden State.
WARRIORS: Jarrett Jack
Jack was a big plus for the Warriors on offense, even though he had 24 turnovers in six games. He averaged 18.8 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting with seven assists. He consistently made teams pay for one-on-one coverage. He did give up a lot of points, though. And his turnover count must go down against San Antonio.
ADVANTAGE: Warriors. Hard not to favor a proven vet such as Ginobili, but Jack will get a lot of time on the floor and a lot more opportunity to hurt San Antonio.
SPURS: Kawhi Leonard
The second-year forward has been compared to Bruce Bowen, the Spurs’ noted defender from the championship teams. Leonard is big and athletic, and he has embraced his role.
What makes Leonard special though is he can contribute on offense, as well. What he gives is bonus, but his 12.3 points on 55.3 percent shooting in the playoffs so far makes the Spurs that much tougher.
WARRIORS: Klay Thompson
He has become Golden State’s defensive specialist. He likely will spend a lot of time on Parker and Ginobili. His on-ball defense has been especially good in these playoffs. But has it come at a price? Thompson’s scoring is down (to 14.7 points) from the regular season, and his shooting flamed out in the Denver series. Golden State can’t afford him to be cold.
ADVANTAGE: Spurs. Much less pressure on the Spurs’ second-year man. But with David Lee out, the Warriors need more offense from Thompson.
SPURS: Danny Green & Tiago Splitter
Green made a team-high 177 3-pointers. If he’s hitting, the Warriors are in trouble. He’s also a good defender. Splitter is a big body who brings the rugged to the Spurs’ front line.
WARRIORS: Harrison Barnes & Carl Landry
Barnes came alive in the first round in Lee’s absence. He knocked down open shots, he made plays in transition, and his defense was notable. Landry was also huge for the Warriors in making up for Lee.
ADVANTAGE: Warriors. Barnes and Landry have the talent, and they will have plenty opportunity.