The first round match-up between the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors presents a sort of “chicken or the egg” type problem. The Spurs have shot the ball quite poorly in each of the three games, with their effective field goal percentage ranking in the bottom 20th percentile compared to every other game played by any team this season, according to Cleaning the Glass. This has been a down year for the Spurs from an efficiency perspective, which begs the question: do the Warriors defensive stats for the series look better because this Spurs team is not a strong offensive team, or are the Spurs shooting even worse than normal because the Warriors’ defense has shut down their few options?
The answer is probably a little bit of both. The Spurs have shot worse in the first three games of this series than they did on the road this season, which seems to be a credit to the Warriors’ defense. The Spurs, though, are missing wide open 3-point attempts. The Spurs attempted 21 wide open 3 pointers (shots taken with the nearest defender being 6 or more feet away) in game 3. They converted 3 of them. If the Spurs would make even an average percentage of their wide open shots, this series would be much closer.
The missed shots from behind the arc have a ripple effect that affects the Spurs’ primary scorer. As long as the Spurs aren’t a threat from long range, the Warriors will continue to load up inside the arc. This allows them to spend defensive effort denying entry passes to LaMarcus Aldridge or double (sometimes even triple) team him when he does get the ball. Aldridge can read the defense and make the right passes out of double-teams, but it doesn’t make too much of a difference if the Spurs aren’t making their 3s.
The Warriors defense has been great in this series for many reasons, the greatest of such being simple game-planning. If the Spurs make 50% of their open threes, maybe they win a game and force Golden State to adjust, but the Warriors won’t make a drastic change. They know the shooting struggles the Spurs have faced all season. They know that the Spurs could very well shoot above their average and steal a game, but that they wouldn’t maintain that level of shooting for enough games to win the series.
The Warriors defensive rebounding was below average in game 3. Rebounding has been one of the Spurs’ key advantages over the Warriors since they became one of the best teams in basketball, but this team hasn’t been able to capitalize on that advantage quite like Spurs teams in the past have. The Warriors, usually a turnover prone team, took much better care of the ball in game 3, a form of psuedo-defense, as limiting turnovers limits easy points in transition for the other team.
The Warriors have played great defense in this series, mostly by just playing the match-up exactly as they should. The Spurs have a chance to win game 4 if the Warriors continue to give the Spurs open shots and the Spurs are able to hit them. If they aren’t, expect the Spurs to be more experimental with their lineups in the second half, playing players the Warriors have not had the opportunity to scheme against.
All stats from NBA.com/stats unless noted otherwise.