Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs
*Photo via NBA.com
In consistent fashion with their record-breaking season, the Golden State Warriors worked the San Antonio Spurs. Worked. The Warriors carved up the Association’s number one defense on the way to a 30-point victory. While Golden State and Stephen Curry maintained their unparalleled play, the Spurs clearly skipped a beat in dropping their 13-game winning streak. For now it seems the Warriors are peerless as the NBA’s only truly elite team.
Nearly a week after unfashionably allowing a team to score 120 points, the Spurs again dropped a dud on defense against the new look Cleveland Cavaliers in a 103-117 loss.
While these are only two games to the Spurs’ loss column, they register significance being against the reigning NBA Champions and their runner-up. Even more blatant than the losses themselves are the margins of victory and the uncharacteristic play of the Spurs.
While Tim Duncan was out nursing a sore knee in both matches, granted he is their anchor, their benign core did not step up. In both losses, the Spurs were out-rebounded by at least seven. These losses lend us to beg the question: Can the Spurs win the NBA title this year, let alone make it out of the Western Conference?
Just beyond the half point in the season the Spurs flex a 39-8 record, second in the entire league behind the Warriors. While they place only 4 and half games on the heels of the league's best, the Spurs appear much farther behind especially with their eye-opening loss against their biggest challenger.
In this “uncharacteristic” loss, which we now know is not an isolated case, the Spurs were outscored in fast break points by nine and assisted 10 less times than the Warriors. Yet, the most differentiating characteristic between the two teams on that night, and moving forward, is the scoring.
San Antonio had only three scorers in double digits (Leonard-16, West-12, Marjonovic-12) and, clearly, none over 20, while Golden State touted six players in double digits, including Steph Curry’s 37.
In order for the Spurs to challenge the Warriors for the Western Conference Title, they need LaMarcus Aldridge to establish himself as a consistent and powerful second option to Kawhi Leonard. While Leonard is clearly having the best season of his career, the Spurs need to ride him more, When the offense isn’t there for the rest of the team, Leonard needs to pick up the slack just as Duncan did in their early title runs.
*Photo via USA Today
This is what separates the two teams: their offensive weapons. Nearly every one of Golden State’s starters is primed to go off (and much of their bench as well), therefore they go with the hot hand within their splendid offense. San Antonio lacks this luxury: while their core of Parker, Leonard, and Aldridge have the capability, they rarely do. Meanwhile, supporting players such as Danny Green, who was expected to step up (similarly to how Draymond Green has), is putting up a dud.
Another factor to keep an eye out for is the Spurs’ top ranked defense and their counterparts fourth ranked defense. In both matchups, the Cavaliers and Warriors took advantage of an unprepared San Antonio defense early in the shot clock and on fast breaks. While the Spurs can thrive off forced turnovers through their suffocating defense, these top teams rarely allowed that opportunity, often leaving the Spurs defenders looking as they were on skates. The Warriors present their own challenge with versatile defenders at nearly every position.
Ultimately, it’s Golden State’s versatility on both ends of the court that separate them from San Antonio and give them their mesmerizing record.
The San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors match up three more times this season, and hopefully seven game series when it's all said and done. Their next game facing each other is March 19 in San Antonio.