For the next few days, the FPC NBA staff will preview each NBA playoff series. First up, Eduardo Monk previews the Warriors vs Spurs series.
It is odd to think only a season ago this matchup headlined the Conference Finals but now seeing as the Western Conference evolved into a Mad Max badlands, these kind of marquee matchups were to be expected for round one. With the Spurs, due to crippling injuries and declining play of season regulars, falling all the way to the 7th seed, we are treated to this hopefully intriguing contest. To preview this feature matchup, let’s recap their individual seasons, a couple of keys to the series, and the official prediction.
The Spurs have the pinnacle of a sports franchise since the turn of the millennium and then some. They have made 21 straight playoff appearances, an NBA record, and have brought home five Larry O’Brien trophies in that span. After cracking the Conference Finals and boasting MVP finalist Kawhi Leonard last season, this latest season looked to keep the unmatched playoff mojo flowing. However, this year has been somewhat of a disappointment in terms of what the Spurs usually accomplish.
A 47 win season probably should be a booming achievement in the West, especially with Leonard missing the majority of the year. But with the slow degrade of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the Spurs weren’t the superpowers we are used to. Scoring rates fell and the loss of Leonard has hurt them both offensively and defensively. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the unsung hero, carrying the squad with 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds and his resurgence to All-Star form has been a godsend for the Spurs.
Either way, this season might be the beginning of the end for the giants in San Antonio. Without a whole lot in the pipes for the future to replace the crumbling core that has carried them for decades now, the end of the dream could be closer than we may choose to accept.
After a few years of total domination in the regular season, the Warriors actually appeared human for once this season. An injury bug cracked down on their star power and no longer do they rule as top dog in the West. They did play this season a little bit smarter in terms of pushing themselves and they paid for it in the wins column. They gave plenty of time off for injuries and Draymond Green himself explained “We’re not going to spend the rest of our year tryin’ to fight for the #1 seed – if it happens, it happens. Our goal is to get better each and every day.”
However, even with the injuries, they still led the league in scoring and still reign as the most efficient three-point shooting team in the league. And if scoring 113.5 points per game is considered coasting for them, then we are in for a show during the playoffs.
Keys to the Series
Warriors: Quinn Cook
Curry’s replacement Quinn Cook has been phenomenal as of late, averaging 17.5 points, 4.9 assists, and 4.1 rebounds since March 13. But with Curry out until the second round or even later, the possibility of him struggling deep in the playoffs or even against the Spurs rings some alarms for Warriors fans. Missing a two time MVP will be difficult enough but to have a G-Leaguer look like a G-Leaguer is a nerve-wracking prospect. If he can be the 17 point scorer he has been, the Warriors should be just fine with the combined efforts of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
The Spurs’ defense is notoriously great and this season has been no different, ranking top five in defensive rating over the regular season. But without the lockdown Leonard to handle Durant, the explosiveness of the Warriors may be too much for the Spurs to handle. San Antonio has built a reputation on the “defense wins championships” mantra and even in the modern NBA, this has proven to work. If they can be good enough defensively to force dry spells on the Warriors, this series could be a lot closer than anticipated.
While this series isn’t necessarily upset alert, the lack of Curry does put a little wariness into the Warriors. Suppose Leonard were to be healthy and this series might have turned out a little different but seeing as the Spurs do lack depth scoring and the Warriors mostly coasting through the regular season, it will be a tall order. With the sheer star power of the Warriors, even with the defense of the Spurs, Warriors in five.