Monday 18 December 2017 / 08:37 AM

SPURS CRUMBLE AFTER KAWHI INJURY

The Warriors hold off the Spurs in a frenetic series opener to remain undefeated in the post-season and take a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals

San Antonio missed a golden opportunity to steal home court advantage, controlling Game 1 early and racing out to a 23-point lead. Golden State, after just under a week’s break from sweeping the Jazz, came out somewhat sluggish, struggling for rhythm and timing, and failing to execute on their usually crisp offence.

The Spurs capitalised, controlling the pace well and generating mismatches, finding their two primary scorers in Kawhi Leonard and Lamarcus Aldridge, early and often. The Dubs struggled guarding Kawhi in the pick-and-roll – multiple possessions saw him come around the pick, get his defender on his back, measure up the big with a few dribbles, then use his scary combination of athleticism, strength and timing to finish with the foul. Aldridge was able to make use of his size advantage over Draymond Green and whether in the post or in the mid-range, continued to ask questions.

Stifling the Oracle crowd and flustering the opposition, the written-off Spurs seemed well on their way to an improbable upset. Never phased, the Warriors continued to chip away, and without adjusting too much were able to recover and position themselves to win it down the stretch. Whenever this team is within five points of their opposition, 90% of the time they will walk away with the W – they are simply too talented.

The Spurs laid all the groundwork to separate themselves early in the game, so finding themselves attempting to trade buckets down the stretch is disappointing. San Antonio lacked the same offensive punch and the Warriors were able to steal the victory despite their lack of energy and early cold shooting.

Turning point

Whilst the overall poise of their play did improve, GS were given a huge boost following another ankle sprain for Kawhi Leonard.

Early in the third, Kawhi stepped on a teammates foot backtracking from a corner jumper, and then Zaza Pachulia’s foul took away his landing space, again turning his ankle. Leonard drilled the two free-throws (finished 11-11) but wasn’t to be seen for the rest of the game.

A trademark Stephen Curry 3rd quarter, tallying 19-points with his usual roof-lifting antics, coinciding with Leonard’s injury spearheaded the comeback, powered by a 16-0 run in the third.
The Warriors tightened the defence, confident of shutting down the Spurs’ lesser options and snatching control.

The Spurs finished the game 58-33 without Kawhi on the floor. He was +21 while the other four starters all finished in the negative, and Jonathon Simmons, who replaced Kawhi, was -17.

Considering the injury, which is no doubt the biggest takeaway, letting this game slip through their fingers stings even more. With a three-day rest period between Games 2 and 3, San Antonio could have given Kawhi a five-day layoff to recover, and still gone back home with home-court. Now, their backs are firmly against the wall. Never count out this team (and this coach) but envisioning a Spurs win without Kawhi is tough, especially after today’s showing.

Looking forward

It took the Warriors seven minutes into the second quarter to hit their first three – don’t expect that to continue. Also, that won’t be the last time Curry attempts to go supernova from deep in this series, especially at home.

The Spurs were impressive early, and all things considered, could play better. They didn’t have the regular ball-movement ‘Spurgasm’ that usually accompanies their best performances and always grow the deeper we get into the series.

Durant’s defensive value will be more impactful then his offensive contributions. If Kawhi is out this will be altered slightly, but he offers an answer both in the post and on the perimeter, and his weak side shot blocking is the most underrated element of his many skills.

We lauded the no point guard lineup Pop tried out sparingly in the Rockets series. It definitely needs to get a run here, particularly if Ginobili gets rolling like he did tonight. A lineup of Ginobili/Green/Simmons/Kawhi and anyone of their bigs forces Curry to be guarding someone at all times and will give the Spurs the best chance of pushing the Dubs.

Curry lit up San Antonio on nearly every pick-and-roll play run for him. Expect them to go back to that in Game 2.

Patty Mills was terrific against Houston on both ends, but he struggled maintaining his energy levels chasing Curry around. He finished 1-8 and 0-6 from three for a poor line of 5-3-2. Needs to be better.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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