NBA Playoffs 2018: Can the Spurs Slow Down the Warriors and Extend This Series?
The Golden State Warriors have a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs. The Warriors sputtered towards the end of the regular season but have flipped the switch and have dominated the Spurs so far in this series. This has been largely due to the outstanding play of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson who have been nothing short of spectacular. Durant is averaging 29 ppg, 9.3 rpg, and 5.3 apg on 49% shooting from the field in the postseason. Thompson is averaging 22.3 ppg on an unbelievable 53% from the field and 58% from three-point range. With Golden State this hot, is there anything at all the Spurs can do to slow them down?
San Antonio's best chance to win the series was going to rely on them being able to use their defense to make life difficult for a Warriors team that is missing Stephen Curry. Unfortunately for the Spurs, they don't have many defenders that can match the size, speed, and skill of Thompson and Durant. Danny Green is the only Spur that has a chance at defending Thompson and Rudy Gay is theoretically the only Spur that can matchup with Durant well enough to at least bother him. There have been many times in this series when San Antonio has executed their defensive plan well but it has not mattered. The Spurs like to chase shooters off the three-point line and force players into taking contested mid-range jumpers and they have had mild success with using that strategy against Durant who is only shooting 28% from three. The problem is Durant is one of the best mid-range scorers in the NBA and has the size to rise up over most of the defenders that San Antonio throws his way. The same can be said for Thompson who has been guarded by smaller players like Patty Mills for a good chunk of this series and has had no problem getting his shot off. It's emblematic of the problem for the Spurs in this series; they can have a good game plan but it does not matter if they don't have the personnel to execute it.
The offensive side of the ball for the Spurs does not look much better. LaMarcus Aldridge has been carrying the offensive load for this team. Despite being double-teamed almost every time he touches the ball in the post, he's still averaging 22 ppg on 46% from the field. Unfortunately, he is not receiving enough help from his supporting cast. Only two other Spurs are scoring in double digits and neither of them is averaging more than 13 ppg. To make matters worse, the Spurs have not been able to punish Golden State for their aggressive doubling of Aldridge as they are shooting an abysmal 31% from three as a team. Without Kawhi Leonard, The Spurs do not have a defensive or an offensive player on the perimeter that can cause havoc for the Warriors.
It is hard to see a realistic adjustment that can be made to stop Thompson and Durant. Aside from Game 1, the Spurs have executed their game plan on defense pretty well in the first half. Game 2 and Game 3 were very competitive in the first half with the Spurs holding leads at times in both games. San Antonio showed some grit in front of the home crowd and was able to avoid a sweep by winning Game 4 on Sunday.
However, the NBA is a star-driven league and this series has proved that maxim to be true. The Warriors have the three All-Stars and even though Steve Kerr is one of the best coaches in the league. The Spurs were able to get to the playoffs because of their discipline and ability to execute but to put it simply, they don't have enough talent to overcome the Warriors. They are just one superstar short of being able to turn this series around.