Analysis: Spurs’ defense couldn’t match Warriors’ aggressive offense

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Golden State Warriors needed to find a way to outscore the Spurs early on in order to win this game. They did just that last night in the Oracle Arena.

In the first half alone, the Warriors outscored the Spurs 72-44. Thirty of these points for the Warriors came from Steph Curry (19 points) and Kevin Durant (11 points). Curry shot 71% from three-point territory in this half and got four rebounds as well.

That’s not to say the Spurs were lacking in offense in the first half. Jonathon Simmons led the Spurs in first-half scoring with 17 points, making 64% of his field goal attempts, and got two rebounds.

The problem with the Spurs in the first half, which would only get worse in the second half, was effectively guarding key Warriors players. All too often, the Spurs’ defense allowed players like Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson to have enough space to make three-pointers.

For the first several minutes of the third quarter, it appeared as if the Spurs were on their way to a second-half comeback. The Warriors were not scoring as well during this time and their defense wasn’t as effective as it was in the first half. As a result, the Spurs cut their deficit to just 20 points at one point during this time.

However, as the Warriors got more aggressive in their offense, the Spurs’ defense simply couldn’t catch up and effectively guard the Warriors. At one point, the Spurs trailed the Warriors by 41 points in the fourth quarter. The Warriors ended up beating the Spurs with a score of 136-100.

Curry had a good performance, scoring 29 points in this game. So did Simmons, who scored 22 points.

Any weaknesses that were present in this game were on the part of the Spurs. This team is simply not the same without Kawhi Leonard. If Leonard gets the OK to suit up for Game 3 on Saturday night, the Spurs should be able to have a much better game than what was on display last night. The Spurs may even have a chance to win this series if Leonard can play for the remainder of the series. However, if Leonard cannot play on Saturday, the Spurs have a minimal chance at winning this series, and a sweep by the Warriors would then look very likely.

If I were the Warriors, and Leonard does in fact play on Saturday, I would make absolutely sure that I play this game as aggressively as these last two games in the series. The last thing the Warriors want is to blow a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals and allow the Spurs to make an improbable (but not impossible) comeback and win this series.

Analysis: Spurs deteriorate without Kawhi Leonard, Warriors take advantage

Update: Kawhi Leonard appears unlikely to play in Game 2, according to Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.

Despite the pain many Spurs fans (including myself) are feeling over last night’s heartbreaking loss to the Warriors in the Oracle Arena, for better or worse, last night’s game exposed weaknesses on both teams.

One of the reporters on KSAT 12, during a Spurs pre-game show, suggested that the Spurs would have to play “four perfect games” in order to win this series. The Spurs seemed to do just that – at least up until the third quarter.

At the end of the first half, the Spurs outscored the Warriors 62-42. Kawhi Leonard outperformed Steph Curry with 18 points in the first half compared to 14 points for Curry.

The Warriors hit 38% of their field goals and 22% of their field goal attempts in the first half. They turned the ball over 10 times. The only positive for the Warriors was that they hit 74% of their free throw attempts.

The Spurs were still leading the Warriors by over 20 well into the third quarter. However, it was clearly Leonard’s injury from Zaza Pachulia that led to things going south for the Spurs.

Leonard finished the game scoring 26 points, shooting 54% from three-point range, and shooting 100% of his free throws.

Right after Leonard left the game, the Warriors scored 18 unanswered points, cutting their deficit to only five points.

The Warriors went on to win the game 113-111. Curry ended up scoring 40 points in this game, improving his field goal percentage to 54%, and he made 44% of his three-point attempts.

The biggest weakness the Spurs seemed to have in this game was their inability to stabilize their gameplay without Leonard. There were several times towards the end of the first half where the Warriors would play very fast-paced and hit a quick shot, yet the Spurs would follow up with a noticeably slower but confident pacing and counter to whatever points the Warriors scored in the previous play. This kept the Warriors from cutting the deficit to single digits by the end of the first half. Without Leonard in the lineup, the Spurs didn’t seem to know what to do other than attempt to match their pacing to that of the Warriors, which didn’t work out for them. The Spurs’ defense was perfect in terms of guarding key Warriors players like Curry and Kevin Durant in the first half, but it clearly deteriorated after Leonard’s injury caused him to be taken out of the game.

The biggest weakness for the Warriors is trying to overcome the Spurs’ defense. Clearly, Leonard’s removal in the third quarter deteriorated the Spurs’ defense. This allowed the Warriors to play at a much faster and more confident pace for the rest of the game, which helped lead to their victory over the Spurs. However, when the Spurs are on their “A” game defensively, like they were up until Leonard’s injury, the Warriors simply need to find a way to outscore the Spurs early on and force the Spurs to play especially harder.

Whether or not the Spurs have a chance to win this series will all rely on if Leonard will return to play for the rest of the series. If Leonard can return and if the Spurs can play very similarly to how they played in the first half of this game, they may very well win this series in six or seven games. Leonard is undoubtedly the center of the Spurs’ lineup. Some Spurs fans seem to not realize that the Spurs’ Leonard-less victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets was largely a result of poor defense on the part of the Rockets. A team simply doesn’t win a game by nearly 40 points if the other team had a good game, defensively-speaking.

If it turns out that Leonard can’t play for the rest of the series, the Spurs simply need to find a way to stabilize their gameplay when the Warriors want to play efficiently fast-paced. If the Spurs cannot do this without Leonard, we may very well be looking at another 4-0 sweep on the part of the Warriors.