Tonight, the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors will face off for the third and final time in the regular season.
San Antonio won the first two matchups by a combined 51 points, but those results are meaningless considering the context. The Warriors didn’t look like they were on the same page in their opening night loss at Oracle, and they lost the most recent contest with every member of the death ball lineup inactive for one reason or another.
Kevin Durant won’t be on the court for this game either, but this is as close as we’ll get to a full strength matchup in the regular season. Both teams have been playing solid basketball of late, but a few circumstances might tip the scales in San Antonio’s favor.
The Warriors played in Houston last night, and after being blown out in the first quarter the Rockets kept the game close enough to force Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Andre Iguodala all to play over 33 minutes. As is expected, the Warriors perform slightly worse than they normally do on the second night of a back-to-back.
Golden State made just 11/41 attempts from beyond the arc last night, which follows a pattern of reduced three-point accuracy on the road. The Warriors shoot 42% from three in Oracle Arena, but outside the friendly confines the percentage drops to 35 percent. In losses the Dubs shoot just 26 percent from beyond the arc, so limiting that part of their game will be key for the Spurs at the AT&T Center tonight.
Klay Thompson shredded a lazy Houston defense in the first quarter, moving quickly off the ball to get open threes and uncontested layups. Stephen Curry contributed 32 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in last night’s win, and though he’s having a quieter season he’s still one of the toughest covers in the NBA.
Thompson isn’t the only one who cuts to get open in this offense, as it’s a big part of the game plan and philosophy for Steve Kerr’s group. Steph, Draymond, and even Zaza Pachulia have shown tremendous ability to find the open man, and they will put the Spurs’ top-ranked defense to the test.
The Spurs executed at a high level defensively in their blowout win over the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, and they’ll need another solid performance on that end of the floor tonight. Dewayne Dedmon will need to provide help at the rim to prevent backdoor cuts, and Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard will each need to hound one of the best scorers in the game, and make sure the Splash Bros. don’t get clean catch-and-shoot looks from dirty areas.
The Warriors push the pace in transition better than anyone in the game today, and those breaks often end in a layup or uncontested three. To avoid these deadly counterstrikes, the Spurs need to take care of the ball and focus on creating high-quality scoring chances for themselves so they can set their defense.
In all likelihood, Kawhi Leonard will get buckets his like he always does. The game will be decided by the other guys, starting with LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge will probably find himself guarded by Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Draymond Green, and that will be the matchup to watch in this game.
Shooting the three ball efficiently will be important for San Antonio in this one. Pau Gasol has been ridiculously efficient from long range since moving to the bench, but team success hinges on the higher volume shooters who are less consistent. Kawhi, Patty Mills, and Danny Green shot a combined 2/16 from three in the win over Cleveland, and that trio will need to be sharper from distance to compete with the three-centric Warriors.
The Spurs bench averaged 49 points in the first two meetings between these teams, and reserve play might be an advantage for San Antonio in this contest as well. Both earlier matchups produced garbage time, but Coach Popovich relied on his second unit when the games were close and the young guys did not shy away from the Warriors.
This game should be closer than the first two, but I expect the rested Spurs to win on their home court 110-103.