The San Antonio Spurs won a decisive Game 5, putting the pressure on the Warriors to match their execution. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — coach Mark Jackson christened them as the best shooting backcourt ever — combined for a series-low 13 points on Tuesday and missed almost three times more shots (16) than they made (6). Entering tonight's penultimate game, there are still a lot of questions that haven't been resolved.
What happened to Thompson?
Since his 3-point shooting barrage in Game 2, which cemented the Warriors’ first win in San Antonio since 1997, Thompson has been nonexistent. The Spurs haven't deployed a drastically different defensive scheme — Kawhi Leonard still checks Thompson — but they have just about eradicated all transition 3-point attempts and open looks that he usually subsists on.
Thompson can create off the dribble, but since he's a poor finisher at the rim, anything that isn't a 3-pointer is pretty much a win for the defense. Leonard, especially, has corralled Thompson at the arc and forced him into difficult mid-range shots. Though Thompson scores more points per 48 minutes when Leonard is on the floor, per NBA.com, his shooting percentage has depreciated to 41.9 percent against Leonard. And he's been completely cold for the majority of the series; Thompson is shooting 14 of 41 (34.1 percent) in Games 3-5, with only three 3's and no free throws to buoy efficiency.
Battle of the bigs: Andrew Bogut vs. Tim Duncan
In a lot of ways, Bogut's game is a decent facsimile of Duncan. Mostly defensively, since both schemes call for passive pick-and-roll defense because it deters fatal dribble penetration and entices mid-range jumpers. Bogut can't score in many ways like Duncan but he's still made his mark defensively, where he's gotten Duncan to take significantly fewer shots in the restricted area (about eight fewer per 48 minutes) when he's on the floor and replacing them with a bunch of mid-range shots (about 20 more per 48 minutes). That's a win for Golden State.
You can have too much Carl Landry.
Landry has started two consecutive games and that very well may be a costly mistake. Landry isn't terrible — his playoff PER (21.1) is higher than Duncan's right now — but it's clear that he isn't a great fit for this series. The Warriors want to leverage their premier shooting against San Antonio and Landry's decent, but not great range, doesn't maximize their potential in this regard.
The difference has been obvious; despite being better equipped on the boards, the Warriors are 11.6 points per 100 possessions worse with Landry. Not only does San Antonio shoot better when he's on the floor, but Curry has only made 35.9 percent of his total shots and 27.8 percent of his 3-pointers with Landry in the lineup instead of a fourth shooter that can space the floor.
Who is winning the clutch battle?
In a series with three overtime periods in five games, there has been relatively few traditional "clutch" moments — at least if you follow the statistical adage (last five minutes and a five-point margin or fewer). There have been 12 "clutch" minutes this series and San Antonio, the league's 11th most effective clutch team during the regular season, has crushed the Warriors (eighth most clutch team) thus far, even though they inadvertently blew a five-point lead in Game 4. They've shot an unsustainable 52.4 percent in these 12 minutes, and are outscoring the Warriors by 34.1 points per 100 possessions. Golden State isn't an albatross either but they haven't been nearly as good (or lucky) as the Spurs.
What's up with Splitter and Duncan?
It took Gregg Popovich awhile to pair Tiago Splitter and Duncan together in the starting lineup. His fear was that the bench rotation bigs (Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair) weren't strong enough defensively. That fear was put to rest soon. The Splitter and Duncan pairing was Popovich's 11th most utilized duo this season, per NBA.com, and only the Kawhi Leonard-Splitter combination was more effective. The opposition mustered an anemic offensive rating (92.2) when the two corralled the paint and rarely converted shots in the restricted area.
This has not been the case in the playoffs. Splitter and Duncan have not been an effective pairing. They were even a negative against the train wreck Lakers. They have been even worse against Golden State, a team equipped to exploit their lack of lateral quickness on the perimeter. These issues, Splitter and Duncan both have failed to jump out to the 3-point line to contest on many pick-and-rolls, have led to Golden State scoring a ridiculous 127.3 points per 100 possessions this series in 31 Splitter-Duncan minutes. Popovich shouldn't scrap the pairing, however. It can still work with either Festus Ezeli and Landry and perhaps a combination of hot shooting, injury and luck have illuminated problems that don't actually exist.
There's no place like home
The difference between Green on the road and at the AT&T Center is about 10 points per game this series, if you're counting. He's played nearly identical minutes in each venue but he's only made a fourth of his road threes compared to a sparkling 50 percent at home. A bit of good news though; Green is still impacting the game defensively, namely with his blanket coverage of Curry, and his home/road splits this season indicate that he can shoot in multiple environments. No need to worry just yet.
The fourth wheel
Leonard takes a backseat to Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili but his impact is still significant. Not only has he bottled up Thompson this series but he's rebounded enough that Popovich trusts him as a viable small-ball power forward. The Warriors have bested these small lineups but that's besides the point. If the Spurs advance to the Western Conference Finals, there's a really good chance Leonard played a big role; in three victories, he's scoring 16.7 points per game while shooting 73.3 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from behind the arc.
That's how many more victories the Spurs need to make their fifth NBA Finals appearance. Can they close this series promptly and beat Memphis, an improving juggernaut that poses several matchup problems?