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NBA Western Conference Semifinals Preview: Spurs vs. Warriors

Law Murray |
May 6, 2013 | 11:25 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Steph Curry didn't make the 2013 All-Star team, but lighting up Tony Parker's team will ensure that he isn't forgotten next year (Heel Sports/Creative Commons).
Steph Curry didn't make the 2013 All-Star team, but lighting up Tony Parker's team will ensure that he isn't forgotten next year (Heel Sports/Creative Commons).
The 2013 playoffs are ready for a second round, and in the Western Conference, the second-seeded San Antonio Spurs will host the sixth seed Golden State Warriors for the right to go to the Western Conference Finals.

The Spurs, Southwest Division champs with a 58-24 regular season record, are coming off of an unceremonious sweep of the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, scoring at least 91 points in all four games while holding the Lakers to no more than 91 points in all four. The Warriors finished the regular season at 45-37 and earned their first playoff berth since 2007. While the Warriors have only been to the playoffs seven times since 1977, they have pulled off five first round upsets in that span, with their fifth coming this year in six games over the third-seeded Denver Nuggets.

The Warriors and Spurs split their four regular season meetings this year, with the home team winning each time. Power forward Tim Duncan historically has owned the Warriors in his career at home, as the last Warriors win in San Antonio was way back in February 1997. That was the last year the Spurs missed the playoffs, and Duncan was the number one pick by the Spurs the following draft. The only time the Spurs and Warriors met in the playoffs, however, the Run-TMC era Warriors knocked off the David Robinson-led Spurs 3-1 in a first round upset.

The Spurs have been eliminated by five different teams since their last championship in 2007 (Lakers, Mavericks, Suns, Grizzlies, Thunder), so there will be no false pretenses headed into this one. Likewise for the Warriors, as they haven't advanced to the Conference Finals since the Spurs entered the NBA in 1976.

Warriors' Offense vs. Spurs' Defense

Perimeter: Warriors point guard Stephen Curry was snubbed from the All-Star Game, partly because of players like Spurs All-Star point guard Tony Parker. It will be harder to keep Curry out of the game next year, especially if he continues to shoot and make plays against Parker as he did against the Nuggets' Ty Lawson. Curry gets some relief on the perimeter from shooting guard Jarrett Jack and small forward Klay Thompson. Throw in convenient stretch four Harrison Barnes, who is playing power forward in place of All-Star David Lee, and you have four of the Warriors' top shot takers combining to throw up more than 22 threes a game. Advantage: Warriors

Paint: Now, with the Warriors shooting so many threes, that doesn't leave a lot of touches for players such as center Andrew Bogut and power forward Carl Landry. Not that they should get many more, as Duncan is perhaps the finest interior defender in the league. Lee figures to be limited at best with a torn hip flexor, while the Spurs wait on center Tiago Splitter (ankle) and power forward Boris Diaw (back). The Spurs had to deal with Lakers bigs Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in round one; they catch a break in round two. Advantage: Spurs

Control: The Spurs aren't great at forcing turnovers, but the Warriors turned the ball over at least 16 times in every game against the Nuggets in round one. Jack averaged four a game, an added stress on his responsibilities as a playmaker. Curry and Jack are going to make a lot of plays, but San Antonio has a few players who are opportunistic enough to take advantage of the Warriors' careless ball handling.

Advantage: Draw/Spurs

Warriors' Defense vs. Spurs Defense

Tim Duncan has yet to lose to the Warriors at home in his 16-year NBA career (Creative Commons/Keith Allison).
Tim Duncan has yet to lose to the Warriors at home in his 16-year NBA career (Creative Commons/Keith Allison).

Control: The Spurs get a little careless with the ball at times as well, but the Warriors are among the worst teams in the NBA at forcing turnovers (27th in the league in steals despite playing at the league's fourth fastest pace). Parker leads the league's best passing team, and the only player who had more turnovers than assists versus the Lakers was center Aron Baynes (one turnover, zero assists in 23 minutes). Compare that with Nuggets C JaVale McGee, who turned the ball over to Golden State 11 times without a single assist. Advantage: Spurs

Paint: Duncan is still productive at age 37, and he gave Bogut 25 points on 17 shots in their only matchup of the season, a Spurs win. While Lee is an outstanding rebounder, he and Landry are defensive liabilities. Bogut also dominated the interior against the Nuggets, averaging 10.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the series. Duncan also won't have Tiago Splitter to help out on the interior, and the Spurs cede offensive rebounds (only the Celtics grabbed fewer offensive boards this season). Even without Lee for most of the series, the Warriors were able to out-rebound Denver.

Advantage: Draw/Warriors

Perimeter: The Lakers were an upset pick by some because of Parker's perceived decline after dealing with nagging injuries all season. Instead, Parker got to the lane and the line at will. Ty Lawson didn't even shoot the three well (4-of-21) and still averaged more than 20 a game against Golden State, so Parker represents a significant challenge to whoever the Warriors put on him. One challenge the Spurs present that the Nuggets didn't for Golden State is the ability to space the floor and hit threes. However, Spurs like shooting guard Danny Green, small forwards Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili, and shooting guard Gary Neal have to actually hit those shots. Golden State defended them well this season from beyond the arc (25-of-94, 27%). That said, the Spurs have a lot of diverse scoring options besides Parker on the perimeter, and there will be a lot of pressure on Jack and Thompson to defend whenever rookie shooting guard Draymond Green is not on the floor.

Advantage: Draw/Spurs

Warriors' Depth vs. Spurs' Depth

The Warriors are riding a true playoff rotation, playing only Landry and Green off the bench ans giving very few minutes to rookie center Festus Ezeli and small forward Richard Jefferson. Mark Jackson is playing Curry, Jack, and Thompson over 38 minutes a game. All of those guys are under 30, but you can see how David Lee's injury thins them out. I think it has played a role in the lack of execution late. The Spurs only had to play three guys over 30 minutes per versus Los Angeles (Parker, Leonard, Duncan) but it seems like they might go to as many as five guys off the bench (Neal, Ginobili, power forward Matt Bonner, point guard Cory Joseph, and Blair) while waiting for Diaw and Splitter to return from injury. And we didn't even mention small forward Tracy McGrady, a non-factor until proven otherwise. Advantage: Spurs

Warriors' Coaching vs. Spurs' Coaching

Warriors head coach Mark Jackson has pushed all of the right buttons with this team, and the effort and focus was contagious throughout the season. Jackson's team got better with David Lee's injury, going to a small ball approach that wasn't quite Nellie-ball but still produced results similar to the upset by the 2007 Warriors over that season's Mavericks. The lack of poise down the stretch is partly on Jackson; the Warriors are exciting but mistake-prone, and that won't cut it going forward. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has worked to improve the Spurs defense while keeping the updated offense in place. He rarely makes the mistake of sacrificing a team's identity for matchup purposes.  Jackson is the only coach left who has never coached this deep in the playoffs before, but that didn't stop Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins, or Scott Brooks from advancing past the Spurs the last three years.

Advantage: Spurs

Intangibles

The Spurs have home court advantage, and a streak that can't be ignored (29 straight wins against the Warriors at home). Either the streak gets broken, or the Warriors' season is over. Of course, the Denver Nuggets also had a rather significant home court advantage, and you see how that worked out for them. The Spurs' pedigree far exceeds that of the Warriors' (Golden State hasn't won a championship since 1975), and Golden State has more than just Lee's injury hovering above them, as every time Curry or Bogut rolls an ankle the Bay Area hyperventilates. Pressure usually busts pipes, but the Warriors are playing with a significant amount of house money. Plus, there's the Richard Jefferson factor in the locker room. (Not that he'll play much or is known as a fiery leader, but his playoff experience with the Nets and Spurs has to count for something, right? No? Okay.)  Advantage: Draw/Warriors

Bottom Line

The Warriors are going to put some serious pressure on the Spurs with their shooting, and if enough guys outside of Curry get really hot, the Spurs are going to be vulnerable. The Warriors look a lot like the 2010 Suns team that swept San Antonio in the Western Semis, and San Antonio must find a way to get Curry off his spot. Expect San Antonio to have a plan to limit the other shooters (Thompson, Barnes, Jack), be physical with Curry, and challenge the Warriors defense with their deft execution. I'll take the Spurs in six games. But just because I'm counting out Golden State University doesn't mean you have to.

Reach Law Murray here or follow him on Twitter.



 

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