Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Spurs vs. Warriors

Well ... that one got out of hand pretty quickly. On one hand, that's the type of game where the Spurs have to be tempted to just burn the tape and forget it ever happened. They got beat so bad and so convincingly that it's hard to take anything from it other than they need to start over and get back to the basics on both sides of the ball. On the other, that was the first match-up between the two best teams in the league and only one important player (Tim Duncan) on either side was out so anything we can glean from that is important. There's no point in running away from what happened and it's best to look at the data under the light of day and see where the Spurs go from here.

1) Can they play Tony Parker in this series? Or Patty Mills?

The Warriors put opposing PG's in a box and that was never more evident than what happened on Monday night. If you are asking Tony Parker to guard Steph 1-on-1, you might as well give him a blindfold and a cigarette for all the good that it's going to do. He was never a great defender in his prime and now that he's lost a step he's slower, smaller and less physical than Steph and he can't contest his shot, stay in front of him or chase him around screens. The Warriors didn't even really need to run him in the pick-and-roll with Draymond Green as much as they usually do because he was scoring against Parker so easily. Steph is going to score on anyone but all the more reason not to make it as easy as possible on him.

The problem becomes that you can't really move a small guard off the ball against the Warriors because there's no one to hide him on defense. Golden State has a phalanx of 6'6+ wings who can get their own shot and take a smaller defender into the post. Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are going to mercilessly kill someone who can't contest their shot, especially a weaker defender like Parker. The only player that he has a chance of guarding would be Harrison Barnes and that's only out of the hope that he makes a few Harry B type plays that bail out the defender. (He was +1 in a game where every other starter was at least +18 - a lot of that was him playing in garbage time but still).

My guess is that even Barnes would make short work of Parker and Mills which means that the only player in the Warriors rotation that those two can even hope to guard is Leandro Barbosa. And I'd assume that Kerr would take him out of the rotation when things got serious. You don't want to over-react to one game and there are a lot of possible adjustments that Pop could make but I don't see what he could do to keep his PG's on the floor against the Warriors. Not with Steph playing the way he is playing and with the size and speed advantage the rest of their wings would have against 6'1 guys who aren't good defenders to begin with. It becomes a game of Whac-A-Mole and every time Parker and Mills get on to the floor they are going to get whacked and they are going to get whacked hard.

2) Kawhi on Curry

Everyone wants to talk about the brutal off-ball cut that Curry put on Kawhi and the couple of baskets he was able to score against the best defender in the league. 

That was bad but I still think Kawhi gives them the best chance of sticking Curry 1-on-1 and you want to even out those odds as much as possible (even if it still leaves you at a disadvantage) to give you as much of a chance to make it up at the other spots on the floor. The margin for error that Steph is playing with at the moment is so high that you have to do whatever possible to slow him down, especially if you can do it with only one player. That means Kawhi, Danny Green and Jonathan Simmons taking turns on him on defense and those guys running through a ton of screens on the other end of the floor to try and take his legs out from under him. You want to physically tax him as much as possible, which is another reason why the Spurs have to take the PG's off the floor.

3) More Manu and more Boris and more Kyle Anderson

Playing without Parker and Mills means the Spurs have to look somewhere else for playmaking and the good news is they have multiple 6'6+ players who can handle and pass the ball like guards. Having a bigger player initiate the offense makes it harder for the Warriors to bother them at the point of the attack and get the Spurs out of their flow. Worst comes to worst and all those guys can put Golden State's defenders on their back, bring the ball up the floor and enter the ball in the post. I think you have to go with as big a line-up as possible on the perimeter when you are playing the Warriors.

4) All 6'6+ everything

This might be the line-up I'd try if I were San Antonio: Manu + Green + Simmons + Kawhi + Boris. It's like a slower version of the Warriors Line-up of Death. Or maybe the Line-up of Death in an old Toyota with 100,000 miles on it and a super-changed engine. Boris is probably the one guy in the league who can consistently take Draymond into the post and bury him and they would have pristine spacing to let Boris, Manu or Kawhi initiate the offense. That still leaves room for Kyle Anderson and Rasual Butler - the Spurs have a lot of wing players, which is a really, really good thing.

5) What the hell happened to LaMarcus Aldridge? 

Probably the most disappointing storyline for the Spurs had to be the performance of their prized free-agent acquisition. The numbers speak for themselves - 5 points and 3 rebounds on 2-9 shooting - and he might have even been worse on defense. He couldn't guard on the perimeter at all and he didn't provide too much rim protection either. It seemed like Draymond was in his head and he wasn't aggressive when looking for a shot against him and when he was he didn't come up with anything good. Draymond pushed him off his spots and bullied him on both sides of the ball.

In theory, LaMarcus has the perfect skill-set to attack a shorter post defender like Draymond. If he can get comfortable and bury 18-foot turn-arounds in the post there shouldn't be much a smaller player with a shorter wingspan can do to stop him. What I did like in the 2nd half was when LaMarcus started using pump fakes to get Draymond off him and get him in the air in order to draw contact and go to the line. The Spurs gave him $80 million dollars because he's one of the best 1-on-1 scorers in the league and he's going to have to figure out some way of at least making Draymond uncomfortable on defense if they are going to have a chance.

6) Draymond Whac-A-Mole

The one positive take-away the Spurs can take from this game is that Draymond is the Warriors best defensive match-up on LaMarcus and Kawhi. I thought LMA did a pretty good job scoring on Andrew Bogut when he was on him and Kawhi did a great job of burying the smaller Warriors wing defenders in the post and then using his size to score over the top of them. That's the way forward for me - whoever Draymond isn't guarding needs to be super aggressive about looking for his own shot. Playing 1-on-1 basketball is the best way to slow down the Golden State defense and prevent them from wreaking havoc, causing turnovers and scoring defense to offense.

7) How much can Tim Duncan help?

While Duncan is their best interior defender of all their big men, the concern is that San Antonio might only be able to play one of their big men at a time anyway. It's very hard for 3-out to beat 5-out and that goes double when your big men can't defend in space or protect the rim. The combo of Boris and David West had trouble doing that and so did any combo with LaMarcus on the floor. Maybe Boris + Tim Duncan presents the best combo of interior defense + perimeter playmaking of any of the Spurs big men duos and that's a look I'd expect the Spurs to go a lot to in a rematch.

8) The Spurs are at a big athletic disadvantage against the Warriors

Just from a pure eye-test perspective that might have been the biggest take-away of the game for me. If you take a step back and try to look at the forest through the trees, it seemed like the Warriors were faster and quicker to every loose ball and they were a step ahead of anything the Spurs were trying to do on either side of the floor. They pressed up on San Antonio on defense and they never let them get comfortable and it seemed like the Spurs never recovered from the initial haymakers that the Warriors threw. That was a 2nd or 3rd round TKO if I ever saw one and San Antonio was mostly on the defensive all night asides from a few stretches in the 2Q. They could have thrown in the towel in the middle of the 3Q and saved everyone the time.

That's why I liked Pop's move to bring in Jonathon Simmons and give him the most run (25 minutes) of any of their bench players. He's their best athlete and he's one of the only guys on their roster who can run and jump with the Warriors. He got stretched a little beyond his capabilities on offense on Monday but he was one of the only guys taking the fight to Golden State. Developing him over the rest of the season went from a luxury to a necessity and they need to fully weaponize him as much as possible to give themselves the best possible chance against the Warriors.

9) The good news is that Pop is willing to think outside the box

When I was taking notes during this game, I assumed I'd have something about playing Kawhi at the 4 and running out line-ups with Manu and Simmons as something the Spurs could try the next time they faced the Warriors. That's how most NBA coaches tend to operate - they are cautious to a fault and they don't want to bust out a lot of line-up changes over the course of a game. Pop's mind is working fast enough that he can process what is happening at real speed and rapidly move on to the next possible combination. He was cycling through line-ups real fast against the Warriors and that's what you want to do in order to try and find something that works.

I'm not a big fan of saving possible adjustments until the playoffs in order to catch teams by surprise because what you really want to know is what adjustments they are going to have to your adjustments and you want to have as much line-up data as possible going into that series in order to figure out your game-plan. The Spurs have a very versatile line-up and Pop is going to try everything over their next 3 game in order to see what works and what doesn't against the Warriors. As Herm Edwards said, you play to win the game.

10) The bad news is the Spurs have to adjust to the Warriors

No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy and it's hard to see how the Spurs can really run out a 2 big-man post-heavy offense against the Warriors and win. Maybe Tim Duncan changes that and I'm being a prisoner of the moment but I liked the point that Ethan Strauss made in a recent podcast on the Cavs vs. Warriors about how sometimes we fall victim to not wanting to over-react and not wanting to hot take what we just saw. I don't see how you can't jump to conclusions based off what we watched on Monday. The way the Warriors are playing some things just aren't going to work against them and there's no point in endlessly trying to pound a square box into a round hole and try to convince yourself otherwise.

The point is that the Warriors can beat the Spurs playing like the Warriors but the Spurs probably can't beat the Warriors playing like the Spurs. They can't afford to stand pat which means they have to make the initial adjustments and move away from their preferred identity on both sides of the ball. Maybe the biggest issue is that they might not be able to catch Golden State for the No. 1 seed anymore, which means a 2nd round match-up with OKC that is going to be tricky, tricky, tricky. Let's not write Spurs vs. Warriors in the WCF in stone just yet and I'm not convinced that they provide the best possible challenge to Golden State anyway.


  1. Nice breakdown. Whoever gets OKC in Round 2, that's gonna be HOT.

  2. The one take away I took from that game is that Harrison Barnes is looking awful. Also Kerr has a soft spot for Barbosa so I wouldn't be so sure he goes away from him

    1. I'm at the point now where I'm thinking Harry B is mostly just valuable as a 4. When he's playing as a 3, he's just a guy.

  3. Great read, as always. I really like your columns. But i don't like that first picture in an articel about basketball. Just not appropriate

  4. I love all your references. Hell to the haters that's basically what happened to Parker. Great PIC!

  5. The more i think about it, the more i think that Tim Duncan actually would have changed the equation. You mentioned that the only guy that can guard Kawhi/LMA is Draymond. It remains to be seen if anyone can guard Duncan. Maybe Bogut but we'll see. Manu - Green - Kawhi - Diaw - Dunan is a lineup combo that i think could go 1-1 a lot and play enough defense to stop the warriors in the halfcourt.