War­riors’ chances ap­pear golden

The team’s fire­power could prove to be too much for Spurs in West fi­nals

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY NEIL GREEN­BERG neil.green­berg@wash­post.com

The San An­to­nio Spurs made short work of the Hous­ton Rock­ets in Game 6 of their se­cond-round play­off se­ries Thurs­day night to clinch a spot in the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals against the Golden State War­riors.

The 114-75 vic­tory in Hous­ton was even more im­pres­sive be­cause the Spurs were with­out in­jured su­per­star Kawhi Leonard yet held MVP can­di­date James Har­den to 10 points on 2-for-11 shoot­ing in 37 min­utes of play. But Golden State has two MVP-cal­iber play­ers to con­tend with, plus a cou­ple of other all-stars who are poised to come up big in the West fi­nals.

Leonard sat out Game 6 against Hous­ton be­cause of a left an­kle in­jury he suf­fered in Game 5 of that se­ries, but Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich con­firmed Satur­day that Leonard will play Game 1 at Golden State on Sun­day.

With Leonard on the court, the Spurs are outscor­ing play­off op­po­nents by 9.3 points per 100 pos­ses­sions, eight points higher than when he is on the bench. Leonard is av­er­ag­ing 27.8 points on 52.4 per­cent shoot­ing in the play­offs.

Leonard also is the two-time de­fend­ing NBA de­fen­sive player of the year and will be re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing War­riors for­ward Kevin Du­rant in check. In the one reg­u­lar sea­son meet­ing in which both played this sea­son, Du­rant was 9 for 15 from the field — 1 for 3 from be­yond the three-point line — and scored 20 points in 27 min­utes while be­ing de­fended by Leonard. The Spurs won that game — the reg­u­lar sea­son opener Oct. 25 in Oak­land and Du­rant’s de­but with the War­riors — go­ing away, 129-100. Leonard scored 35 points.

Jonathon Simmons, Danny Green and Patty Mills likely will be re­spon­si­ble for de­fend­ing Golden State guard Stephen Curry, who was held to 109.3 points per 100 pos­ses­sions by San An­to­nio dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son. Against ev­ery­one else, the two-time reign­ing league MVP had an of­fen­sive rat­ing of 118.1.

But the War­riors have four all-star play­ers — Du­rant, Curry, shoot­ing guard Klay Thomp­son and power for­ward Dray­mond Green — who present prob­lems to op­po­nents.

The sharp­shoot­ing Thomp­son is av­er­ag­ing 16.1 points with an ef­fec­tive field goal per­cent­age of 62.5 per­cent out of the pick and roll, a play type that the Spurs de­fend well but not at the elite level they once did. Thomp­son is also scor­ing more than half the time off un­guarded catch-and-shoots, which could be­come more fre­quent as San An­to­nio tries to lock down Curry and Du­rant.

Green, mean­while, saw his ef­fec­tive field goal per­cent­age rise from 48.1 to 55.6 per­cent against the Spurs dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son with his 18-point, 12re­bound, six-as­sist night in the first game lead­ing to his fourth-high­est game score of the sea­son (23.7).

Green’s spot-up shoot­ing abil­ity will be a key. He went 3 for 3 on those shots against the Utah Jazz in Game 4 in the se­cond round, all of them three-point at­tempts off passes from Curry out of the dou­ble-team.

San An­to­nio won two of the three games against Golden State dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son. The Spurs routed the War­riors in the afore­men­tioned opener. San An­to­nio then pre­vailed, 107-85, on March 11 at home in a game in which sev­eral stars from both teams sat out be­cause of in­juries or to rest. And the War­riors won the fi­nal meet­ing, 110-98, on March 29 in San An­to­nio with­out Du­rant, who con­tin­ued to re­cover from a left knee in­jury. Curry scored 29 points in that one.

Golden State has rolled through the play­offs, sweep­ing Portland in the first round and Utah in the se­cond. Mike Brown has served as the War­riors’ in­terim coach since Game 3 of the first round while Steve Kerr ad­dresses lin­ger­ing health is­sues from a back surgery two years ago. Kerr’s re­turn is un­cer­tain.

San An­to­nio needed six games to beat Mem­phis in the first round and six in the se­cond round to oust Hous­ton. The Spurs lost point guard Tony Parker for the rest of the play­offs af­ter he suf­fered a rup­tured left quadri­ceps in Game 2 against the Rock­ets.

It’s hard to be­lieve San An­to­nio, which had the se­cond-best record in the NBA this sea­son at 61-21 and fea­tures another all-star-cal­iber player in power for­ward LaMar­cus Aldridge, could have so much trou­ble in the West fi­nals against Golden State, but the War­riors, who went 67-15 for the league’s best record, sim­ply ap­pear to have too much tal­ent.

That’s why the pro­jec­tions at FiveThir­tyEight.com give Golden State an 87 per­cent chance of ad­vanc­ing to the NBA Fi­nals for a third straight sea­son and the bet­ting mar­kets have never let the War­riors’ chances of win­ning the NBA ti­tle dip be­low 56 per­cent at any point dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son or play­offs.

GENE SWEENEY JR./GETTY IMAGES

Guard Stephen Curry and star-stud­ded Golden State have swept their way through the first two rounds of the NBA play­offs.

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