Last season, it felt like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs were shaking up to be a great long-term rivalry. Unfortunately, Spurs star Kawhi Leonard got injured in the Western Conference Finals, allowing Golden State to sweep them.
This season feels different, though, because the Warriors (43-13) return everybody from a team that went 16-1 in the playoffs. Meanwhile, San Antonio (35-22) has experienced a little bit of turmoil.
Nevertheless, it feels like the Spurs are being overlooked as a team that could potentially dethrone Golden State. This is especially the case after they lost 122-105 this weekend against their rivals.
But then again, we also have to account for the fact that the Spurs are playing without Leonard, starting point guard Dejounte Murray, and franchise stalwart Tony Parker.
And given the Spurs’ system, they must be given credit for being a threat to the Warriors. That said, let’s discuss why San Antonio should still be considered a team that could topple the Warriors’ dynasty.
San Antonio doesn’t Make Mistakes
But the difference between the Warriors’ run in this case, versus against other teams, is that San Antonio was merely missing key players – not making blunders.
Even Warriors coach Steve Kerr praised San Antonio for their lack of mistakes and great execution.
“They just execute all game,” said Kerr. “They just don’t make many mistakes. Every cut is a hard cut. Every time they catch the ball, they’re in an attack mode, and so they’re constantly putting pressure on you.
“They are who they are. You know what’s coming, but you know they’re gonna stay consistent, and here they are in third place in the West without Kawhi all year.”
San Antonio’s execution was in full force on Saturday. They dished out 30 assists compared to just 10 turnovers, good for a 3:1 ratio.
“No matter who’s out of the lineup, who’s in the lineup, they just never get away from who they are,” Warriors forward Draymond Green explained.
“They always defend. They don’t beat themselves. You have to beat them. When you make mistakes, they make you pay — and that’s no matter who they have in the lineup, which makes a difference, and it makes them tough.”
The Spurs Capitalize on Mistakes, which should Scare Golden State
“When you make mistakes, they make you pay,” said Green.
This is more than just a general statement from Green. It also describes a potential worry for the Warriors if they meet a healthy San Antonio in the payoffs.
Kerr’s biggest gripe with his team in past years has been their tendency to bunch turnovers. In fact, this is usually the only way that other teams stand a chance of beating the highly talented Warriors.
Golden State plays a fast-paced game that requires quick decisions in passing. And this style has them turning the ball over at a rapid rate of 16 per game, which is second-worst in the league.
This isn’t a new issue for the Warriors either, because they ranked 11th out of 16th among 2017 playoff teams in turnovers per game.
Imagine a scenario where Golden State can’t clean up their turnovers by this year’s postseason, and they run into the Spurs. San Antonio may not have as many superstars as the Warriors, but they can make up for this by punishing Golden State for their mistakes.
San Antonio is Good at Adapting
The toughest thing about playing the Warriors is how many different looks they can throw at opponents. This creates a situation where opposing teams have trouble defending the various lineups that Golden State trots out.
But one team that can deal with this is San Antonio. Their roster and team philosophy is predicated on being able to adapt to whatever opponents throw out. Warriors forward David West, who played for San Antonio from 2015-16, discussed this aspect of the Spurs.
“It’s a high-information environment, in terms of basketball stuff, life stuff,” West explained. “It’s a very tight-knit organization and group of people.”
This tight-knit group has earned praise from Kerr, who’s called San Antonio the best basketball franchise for the past 20 years. And much of this can be attributed to coach Gregg Popovich, who’s won 5 NBA championships during this span.
Kawhi Leonard Has to be Healthy
San Antonio has a very effective “next man up” philosophy that calls on everybody to step up when needed. This has helped San Antonio stay within striking distance in the standings, despite their best player been out with a long-term quad injury.
But everything we’ve covered up to this point has little bearing on the Spurs beating Golden State if Leonard can’t play.
The main problem here is that Leonard provides the type of scoring power San Antonio needs to hang with the Warriors. As shown in last year’s Western Conference Finals, the Spurs just don’t have the firepower to keep up when Leonard isn’t playing.
As it stands now, the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder are drawing the most attention as far as contenders in the West. But even these two talent-laden teams could have trouble stopping Golden State from making their fourth-straight appearance in the NBA Finals.
That said, perhaps it’s the Spurs who had the best chance to win based on their discipline and adaptability. But again, the only chance they have in the playoffs is if their team is healthy.
2018 Spurs Futures – Courtesy of GTBets
Odds to Win 2018 Western Conference Title
- Golden State -325
- Houston +375
- Oklahoma City +1400
- San Antonio +1400
- Minnesota +2500
- Portland +10000
- Denver +15000
Odds to Win 2018 NBA Championship
- Golden State -230
- Houston +475
- Cleveland +750
- Boston +800
- Oklahoma City +2500
- Toronto +2500
- San Antonio +3000
- Milwaukee +5000
- Minnesota +6000
Taking everything into account, San Antonio may currently be a value bet to win both the West and NBA title. They’re undervalued right now, because Leonard has been injured for weeks. But if he gets healthy in time for the playoffs, then San Antonio becomes a legitimate threat.