Warriors’ Defense in Game 1

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Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was a heart breaker for the San Antonio Spurs. For the second time this year, they found themselves up big against the Golden State Warriors, eventually allowing their lead to slip away and losing the game. While much, if not all, of the Spurs’ second half troubles could be attributed to Kawhi Leonard leaving the game with an ankle injury, the Spurs found themselves struggling to score against the Warrior’s defense in the second half.

First off, Leonard’s injury is a game-changing and series-changing event, but while the Spurs were in strong position to win the game before Leonard went down,  there are still factors that can be observed from the Spurs’ offense and the Warriors’ defense separate from the injury that can be taken into game 2 and beyond. Secondly, for ease of obtaining stats, we’ll compare the Warriors’ defense between halves, despite the fact that the Spurs grew their lead in the second half before Leonard went to the locker room.

In terms of what changed half-to-half, rebounds are the first thing that stick out. The Spurs absolutely have to win the rebounding battle to have a chance against the Warriors. The Warriors’ offensive possessions are so valuable with their wealth of scorers on the floor at any given time, so the Spurs have to be willing to crash the offensive glass, extending their possessions on misses and stopping the Warriors from getting out in transition. The Spurs were successful at this in the first half. They out-rebounded the Warriors 23 to 17, winning the offensive rebounding battle 8 to 7. While the offensive rebounding numbers may seem too close to call an advantage for the Spurs, the Spurs missed 4 fewer shots than the Warriors in the first half, meaning they grabbed more offensive rebounds on fewer opportunities.

This advantage vanished from the Spurs in the second half, where they were out-rebounded 26-14. They also lost the battle for the offensive glass, grabbing only 6 offensive rebounds to the Warriors’ 10. The Spurs missed 6 more shots than the Warriors did, which helps explain the defensive rebounding disparity a bit, but also highlights the struggle the Spurs had grabbing offensive boards in the second half.

The Warriors also forced 10 turnovers while committing only 9 in the second half. That difference seems marginal, but it will be difficult for the Spurs to win any game against the Warriors without grabbing more rebounds and and forcing more turnovers than the Warriors.  Seven of the turnovers that the Warriors forced in the second half were steals which often leads to easy transition buckets for the Warriors.

In the second half, the Warriors prevented LaMarcus Aldridge from getting to the rim as frequently as he did in the first. After Leonard went down, many of Aldridge’s shots were contested mid-range jumpers. While these are shots that Aldridge has proven he can hit throughout his career, the Warriors will gladly let him shoot from mid-range rather than allowing him to get to the rim.

Finally, the Warriors kept the Spurs from sharing the ball as readily in the second half as they did in the first. In the first half, the Spurs assisted on 52.2% of their field goal makes. In the second half, however, the Spurs assisted on only 41.2% of their field goal makes. At the time of writing, it looks unlikely that Leonard will play in game 2, meaning the short-handed Spurs will have their hands full overcoming this Warriors defense. Their hopes of having a chance start with rebounding, forcing turnovers, and good ball movement.

All stats from nba.com/stats

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