It’s not much of a surprise that Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs went about as poorly as expected for the team wearing silver and black.
Both teams seemingly entered the playoffs expelling as little effort as necessary to maintain their postseason aspirations, or in the Warriors case, minimize strain and injury that would inhibit their quest for another championship.
But while the Warriors showed they were able to flip the clichhéd switch, San Antonio stuck true to their regular season identity of being a horrendous road team.
The issue going forward isn’t what adjustments the Spurs can make to pull off an upset akin to #16 UMBC’s win over #1 Virginia, but how this team can at least make Golden State earn their trip to the conference semifinals.
BY THE NUMBERS
- 61.5: In six minutes together, the 5-man starting lineup of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyle Anderson, Dejounte Murray, Danny Green and Patty Mills had an offensive rating of 61.5. The only other lineups that were worse offensively either played no more than two minutes together or featured Tony Parker. Speaking of which…
- 4: Tony Parker’s struggles have made him practically unplayable in the last month. His two points on 1-of-8 shooting in Game 1 show that maybe Parker’s gas tank for the season is nearly empty. In his last 15 games, Parker is averaging just 4.0 points per game. The points wouldn’t matter if he was contributing in other ways, but he’s also just averaging 2.3 assists per game all while shooting 28.9 percent (22-of-76) from the field.
- 22: The Spurs scored only 22 points in the paint in Game 1, which is half of their season average of 43.8 points in the paint per game. For reference of how terrible that is, Golden State’s starting lineup had 16 points in the paint in just 16 minutes on the floor together.
Usually, in the playoffs, the team that makes the first adjustment in a series does so from a position of desperation.
While Warriors head coach Steve Kerr made the first adjustment, his move to start Andre Igoudala was more out of necessity with Steph Curry’s injury than out of needing an edge.
Golden State’s length and athleticism is an easy way to frustrate the smaller Spurs regardless of their shooting ability.
In Game 1, Aldridge took on McGee as his primary defender 30 times, finishing with six points on 3-of-9 shooting. While Golden State refused to let McGee switch when the Spurs ran Aldridge in pick and rolls, it’s their trust in McGee’s post defense paired with their length that made life hell for Aldridge.
In the play above the two biggest issues on Aldridge’s post up are: 1) Rudy Gay not flashing to the 3-point line until after Aldridge has committed to go left and drive on McGee and 2) Aldridge not being a good enough passer to hit Bryn Forbes in the split second Draymond Green allows Forbes to breathe.
Listed at 6-foot-6, Andre Iguodala is the smallest defender on the floor for Golden State during the possession, while the Spurs are rolling with three guards that are all shorter or the same height as Iggy.
Furthermore, every Spurs shooter is above the break which lets Durant’s length guard Manu Ginobili and Rudy Gay without moving, while Iguodala and Green can collapse on an unassuming Aldridge and crash the boards.
While surrounding Aldridge with shooters so he can work in the post is great, the Warriors will gladly let Forbes beat them over Mills or Gay.
Going forward the Spurs will probably run more pick and roll with Murray or Gay with Aldridge to make McGee defend in space, but Murray’s inability to threaten as a shooter still limits San Antonio’s offensive potential.
Look, I know I’m one to hype (and in some cases overhype) up guys that have played well with the Austin Spurs. And much to the dismay of the Project Spurs editorial staff, primarily just our Founder and CEO Michael De Leon, I’m going to light a fire under the “Give Derrick White some minutes” crowd.
First of all, let’s have some perspective on White’s play in Austin and his performance in Game 1.
White’s ability to catch fire offensively and take over the scoring load is incredible to witness, but it’s one thing to do that in the G League against season MVP Lorenzo Brown and another thing to do it against former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
Also, White’s seven points in 13 minutes came with the game already in hand and against Golden State’s bench.
But while White lacks the experience and corporate knowledge Gregg Popovich so highly values, there’s no better time for White to get his feet wet than in a series where the expectations are practically non-existent.
Parker’s already at the tail end of his career and running on fumes after returning from what could’ve been a career-ending injury last season. Forbes lacks the size and defense to give San Antonio any advantage on offense when he’s sharing the floor with other guards his size like Mills.
White gives San Antonio added length on the perimeter and another threat to penetrate or shoot off the pick and roll when paired with Mills or Murray.
A lineup of Murray, White, Green, Gay, and Aldridge would instantly give the Spurs something that matches better athletically and physically with the Warriors and the low risk, high reward nature of it makes it the next logical move for San Antonio.
Unless the Spurs can add an MVP candidate, who isn’t even on the same coast as the team right now, or have Danny Green grow a few inches before Monday, the adjustments Pop can make are extremely limited. And this adjustment is certainly one the Warriors aren’t entirely expecting or prepared for.