Warriors’ chances appear golden
The team’s firepower could prove to be too much for Spurs in West finals
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.
Guard Stephen Curry and star-studded Golden State have swept their way through the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs.