Pre-Game Jitters: Warriors v. Spurs — Game 3

How the Spurs can Win: Greg Popovich has a big problem. The first two games have made clear that the Warriors are by far the more offensively talented team. Curry, Thompson and Jack are far more talented than Danny Green and the aging and injured Parker and Ginobili. Draymond Green is far more talented than Bonner. And so far at least, there hasn’t been a significant difference in the play of Barnes and Leonard.

Tim Duncan is still one of the great offensive big men in the game, but Bogut and Ezeli’s ability to guard him one-on-one takes away a lot of his value to his team. Now he’s just a semi-efficient scorer of two point buckets, and not the team facilitator of layups and open threes that he can be when double-teamed.

What can Popovich do about this? What is the correct strategy for a team that is facing a major deficit in offensive talent?  

The correct strategy is to limit the other team’s offensive possessions. To get bigger, to crash the offensive boards, and to attempt to slow the pace to a crawl. To get into crunch time with the game still close, and then hope you can execute your inside game more efficiently than the Warriors can run their offense.

This must be a bit of a through the looking-glass experience for Pop. Because for several years, as Duncan has aged and his role diminished, it has been the Spurs that have been playing Nellieball, pushing the tempo, and trying to fast break and three-point shoot other teams into submission. That won’t work for the Spurs in this series. The newly Nellieball Warriors have flipped the switch on them. They are better at the Spurs’ game than the Spurs themselves.

I think Pop is too great a coach not to realize this. Which is why I expect a major adjustment from him in Game 3 or 4.

Go Big or Go Home: I expect Pop to return Tiago Splitter to the starting lineup as soon as possible, and ride him as much as he can. This could help the Spurs in several ways:

1) Force the Warriors to take talent off the floor: Jackson is likely to match up big against Splitter and Duncan, with Ezeli starting at four as he did in Game 1. While I love Ezeli as a role-playing center, he is clearly not a talented power forward. Can’t spread the floor, can’t facilitate, not a scorer. Putting Ezeli on the floor, and removing Draymond Green to the bench, takes a lot of offensive talent off the floor for the Warriors, and eliminates the mismatch of Green on Bonner that hurt the Spurs.

The more the Spurs can force Ezeli and Landry onto the court, and Green off, the better off they’ll be. Draymond Green has been a force in this series.

2) Makes the Warriors skill players that much easier to guard: because they will no longer have a spread floor to work with.

3) Take away possessions from the Warriors by offensive rebounding: We saw this begin in Game 3, where the Spurs were far more aggressive going to the offensive glass. With Duncan and Splitter crashing the glass, the Warriors’ big men will have their hands full. That may free Kawhi Leonard to slip in for some easy putbacks.

4) Use the low post game: By alternating Duncan and Splitter in the post, the Spurs can slow the pace of the game considerably. When lowering the opposing team’s possessions is a necessity, this is a good strategy.

5) Make the Warriors play half court basketball, by taking away their fastbreak and early offense: Offensive rebounding can nullify a fastbreak. That’s how the Bird Celtics competed with the Showtime Lakers.

Obviously, the Warriors will be far less fast down court with two big men on the floor. And obviously, the more they have to concentrate on helping out on the defensive glass, the less able they are to leak out. Harrison Barnes, in particular, will be preoccupied with boxing out Leonard.

The low post game, if converted at a reasonable rate, can also take away the fastbreak. It might be overall less efficient than shooting threes, but it does put the ball through the net more frequently. The Warriors can’t run when they’re taking the ball out of the net.

6) Get the Warriors in foul trouble, and get into the penalty: The benefits of getting Bogut and Ezeli into foul trouble are obvious.

What’s not so obvious is that if the Spurs can get into the penalty early, they can slow the Warriors fast break. You cannot run after free throws, even if they miss.

7) Wear Bogut’s ankle down: You may have noticed this season that the Warriors frequently hid Bogut from the big centers he should have been guarding. It was David Lee, for instance, that guarded Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins. The official reason was that the Warriors didn’t want Bogut to be pulled out of the lane, which makes some sense.

But I also think it was clear they were protecting Bogut’s ankle. It clearly pained him to bang with opposing bigs.

The more the Spurs can force Bogut to bang with Splitter the better for them.

Matchups: Danny Green will be guarding Curry, and forcing him right, as we saw in Game 2.

Pop will try to get away with guarding Barnes with Tony Parker as much as possible. It’s punishing for Parker, but Barnes’ iso’s have clearly been the Warriors least efficient offense.

Bonner is likely done for the series. Draymond is kryptonite for him. When the Spurs go small, it will likely be with Leonard at the four.

Mark Jackson will try to punish Tony Parker wherever he is on the court. You can predict which Warriors player will get the ball by whom Parker is guarding.

The Spurs X-Factor: Gary Neal figures to get more playing time going forward, because the Spurs desperately need to get quicker on the floor, and to get some scoring.

The Warriors have struggled against small and quick shooting guards this season (Monta, Reddick). Neal is a streaky shooter who can take over a game. With Ginobili effectively MIA, the Spurs badly need Neal to get hot.

The Over/Under: I picked up the free money on the over in Game 1, when both teams were obviously going to go small.

I got out of the way in Game 2 (comment 20), both because the line went up, and Tiago Splitter was returning.

As I now evaluate the series, I have completely changed my mind about this bet. It seems obvious to me now that Popovich must radically change course, and start trying to take the air out of the ball. If that happens, both teams will score less.

The line for Game 3 is currently 203, and I have no interest either way.

The Series: The Warriors are currently +150. That’s a nice price, if you believe that the Warriors are the best team, with home court advantage.

37 Responses to Pre-Game Jitters: Warriors v. Spurs — Game 3

  1. thanks again, boss felt. expected Popovich to go back to the old boa constrictor style, deliberately paced efficiency, sooner, but the woeyrs accommodated him on their own with their grinding inefficiency in the fourth quarter of game one. had also expected at some point a pawn gambit — using a bench role player in a more prominent role — like you’re predicting for Neal.

    unfortunately it looks like McGrady can’t quite get his n.b.a. legs back or otherwise readjust from the chinese mode ; he used to be a decent wing defender and all court player who’d be an interesting counter to thompson or barnes. so no knight sacrifice with the former all star either.

    • At the end of the article, Jackson trotted out that vague “change the culture” thing, and refused to explain it. Marketing blahblah from Lacob’s lips to our ears, via Jackson.

      I’ll take Ellis over Jack + Thompson over Barnes any day, even factoring in all the “intangibles” Lacob & co. hint about.

      That’s not to knock Bogut. He has become a great addition to the team. But it’s also true that the Ws could have acquired other competent alternatives to Bogut at lower cost, and they absolutely do not need to float vague negativity about Ellis’ character. That’s just cheesy treatment for last year’s team leader, a man they should be thankful to. It makes Lacob & co. sound petty, and as if they’re still trying to justify the Ellis/Bogut trade.

      • “Culture” my ass.

      • FeltbotsFakeGirlfriend

        Monta Ellis is a LOSER!!!!!!!! He is a cancer that does not know how to win.

        “But it’s also true that the Ws could have acquired other competent alternatives to Bogut at lower cost”

        There were so many other options that you could not name a single one of them.

        FACT if the Warriors still had Monta Ellis on the team they would have missed the playoffs.

        • FFG, my friend, I thought I might hear from you on this.

          On this blog alone, many alternatives to Biedrins and Bogut have been mentioned by many people, for many years now. I’m not going to waste time repeating them. Look ’em up yourself.

          You imagine Jack is better for a pro team than Ellis? Dream on.

          Team culture is a coaching responsibility. It’s built and maintained by coaches, not players. Players come and go.

          • FeltbotsFakeGirlfriend

            You just don’t get it. And you apparently prefer the Cohan culture. Those alternatives are pipe dreams. James Harden was not going to happen. I prefer Klay Thompson at the salary of $2.2 million over James Harden at $20 million. If you give Harden $80 million over 4 years Curry is not going to sign for $44million over 4 years. Jerry West knows his basketball. The rookie class he brought in is winners. Monta Ellis is a loser. It isn’t about one player it is about a TEAM. This team has chemistry and is going places Monta Ellis never will. Oh wait you wanted Dwight Howard another unrealistic fantasy pipe dream. Sit back and enjoy the fucking ride. Give up the stupid pipe dream we should have done this instead fantasy trades.

          • Wow. Dopy AND hostile. Is that all you got, FFG?

            The team’s “we only want to be in the discussion” thing with Howard was an embarrassment. As before, I decline to do your homework on all the other free agent Cs the Ws could have realistically signed over the last 2 years. It’s a pretty good list. Check it out.

            Sorry you feel so negative about Monta. Have you considered therapy? He’s a great player. By all reports a great teammate. The only Warriors teammate invited to Curry’s wedding. Ellis’ wife is besties with Lacob’s gf. A literally 100% self-made man, he can’t honestly credit anyone else for his success, he invented The Monta all on his own. And Ellis demonstrated once again this year his willingness to place his team over his personal ambitions. You’re right about only one thing: Ellis may never find himself on a winning team. That’s a real shame.

            Cohan’s culture v Lacob’s? Ugh. Wash your mouth.

            Cohan’s business strategy was “do barely enough to put butts in seats.” Lacob’s strategy is to leverage, leverage, leverage his assets into a new arena and other free gifts. Neither is a “must win basketball games” mindset. If we fans got a vote, I’d select “neither of the above.” Wouldn’t you? Just wonderin’.

          • FeltbotsFakeGirlfriend

            Hat I guess you can’t respect yourself because you would not know what the truth was if it slapped you in the face. You cant dispute the facts. Monta Ellis had an affair with a Warriors employee. Monta Ellis got in a scooter accident and lied about it. How can one give Monta Ellis a pass for completely destroying a Warriors season because of his stupidity yet you jump all over the Warriors for ‘tanking’. Apparently opposing coaches don’t respect his game because he has never been voted into an All Star game. You love to quote +/- yet you ignore the fact that Ellis constantly has one of the worst in the NBA.

      • warriorsablaze


        My God.

        • Mark Jackson brought up this topic, WAB.

          • Why do you think Mark Jackson might do that?

          • warriorsablaze

            No. A reporter brought up the topic and asked MJ about it. You can have your 41% shooter (29% from 3) who doesn’t realized he’s not as good as he thinks he is and still hoists 1500 shots. I’ll definitely take Barnes who knows his role and will grow into, at minimum, a solid rotation player… if not more. You can have your guy who gets into fights with his own players in the locker room…. I’ll take the “culture” where players genuinely play for each other, not just themselves. If you think locker room culture doesn’t matter in a team’s success, you must never have played any team sports yourself.

        • FeltbotsFakeGirlfriend

          Monta is a LIAR and a CHEATER but he is a good guy according to the Hat. Monta is at home watching the playoffs. Hat you are just as delusional as your crazy fantasy trade ideas.

          • WAB, I have no idea what Monta “thinks,” and don’t give a damn. His teammates and opponents respect his basketball skills, so I have to too. I’m pretty sure that’s a more important measure of his bball impact than his IQ test results, SAT scores, PR savvy or marketing value.

            I never heard about Monta getting into fights with teammates. Got any documentation on that? Come through for me here, WAB. I’d be very interested. I’d be very surprised, too.

            FFG, here’s the deal: I work my ass off to be 100% fact-driven, so I can’t respect people who are not. You haven’t done your homework. When you have, you just might have an opinion worth considering. Until you have, your noise is no more meaningful than the sound of crickets.

          • warriorsablaze

            What a player thinks of himself is important because it dictates how they play on the court. There’s a difference between confidence and delusion. Monta swings toward the latter (Monta Ellis have it all).

            Jackson wasn’t spewing marketing dribble when he refused to explain the culture change, he was holding back out of respect for Monta. Jackson always gives “all due respect” to players. He’s not gonna say outright negative things about Monta. As for your Monta locker room dust up…. you only have to go back about a week.


          • WAB, thank you. Sincerely. I hadn’t picked up on that story.

            It seems that the Bucks locker room was toxic after getting thrashed by Miami. It sounds like a tense situation, but no blows, insults, name-calling, finger-pointing or arm-waving, just a tense moment quickly dispelled. No fight.

            It sounds like Monta took exception to a hint that he was being selfish. My impression: good for Monta. NO ONE cares more about winning than him. Unless you want to cite Monta for assaulting a teammate with scary eyes, it’s no harm no foul.

            Here’s some more background to the story you cited:


  2. C’mon man! Pop probably just read this! I bet you’re ahead of him at this point, and that he definitely reads Warriors’ blogs for ideas. Don’t be the guy who posts How The Spurs Can Win. I absolutely love your blog and I’ve learned so much about the game of basketball by following you, but my honest immediate response is just wanting a little more of that “Warriors in 6” mojo. By which I mean, the Spurs going big again and slowing things down is really scary and I just don’t want to think about that monumental kind of shift in the series. Especially when I’m starting to imagine the potentiality of the Golden State Warriors in the N. B. A! FINALS!!!

  3. Thanks FB!
    Let’s see if Tim Duncan – unsick – can impact this series. Players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili need to step up – or go home. All the rest of the Spurs are role players who excel when the floor is open. Tiago Splitter or Boris Diaw or Gary Neal or Danny Green or Bonner – don’t seem like difference-making players IMO. Tim Duncan healthy – and the game is changed.

    Tiago Splitter – ain’t a difference-maker. Since Lee’s, Splitter can’t take advantage of David Lee’s horrid defense. We’ll take our daily dosage of Draymond Green (let’s pray to the almighty his open jump shot keeps going in! If not, we’re in trouble!), Harrison Barnes (The Brand will make you pay if you leave him unguarded!), and Carl Landry at PF – and punish Splitter on the other end. Splitter ain’t special…

    I’ve been saying this for years – Popovich, a great coach – is also the luckiest coach in the world… Tanking with an injured HOFer David Robinson – to pick up HOFer to be Tim Duncan? Lucky dog! Let’s see what Popovich can do with a “lesser” roster (for once in his life). As a long suffering W’s fan, I’m LOVING it for once! Pops now SEEMS like the underdog as a 2 seed vs. a 6 seed.

    FB’s right – Pops needs a miracle (pull out a de colo or something)… Seems like coaches Mark Jackson/Mike Malone are pulling all the puppet strings. They seem to have all the match-ups figured out and have a roster solution.

  4. If Pop does make those adjustments, we will remember why we have David Lee. In their only win against the Spurs:;_ylt=AtCyW1EHlLl.IP94jZRobCL8PKB4?gid=2013022209

    Lee had 25 points and 22 boards, 5 of those offensive. Lee would also help with the small unit 2nd. half, when they have tried to maintain a lead, where I’m still nervous. Note, too, the Spurs were full strength and played Splitter at C, the lineup FB predicts.

    Biedrins started that game, playing 16 minutes, and while he was -18 for his stints, he must have done some good against Duncan, who had an average night.

    Jackson said last game he had three 7 footers to throw at the Spurs. Who is the third? The new guy on the bench or Biedrins? Biedrins could be helpful in this series, if only to spread the fouls out, but also he has quickness and experience. The word I read was that he had back problems, but I wonder. He could be useful in the series, at least in spurts.

    What on earth is the deal with Beans?

  5. I mentioned before the series that the Spurs should pound the offensive glass the first game they didn’t. In the second game they did somewhat and garnered four more than we did. No big deal as we way outshot the Spurs and committed one less turnover.The Spurs had 17 OR’s to our 13. and that was mainly to Leonard getting 7 again. I’m sure the Warriors will take steps not to let that happen again.SA can’t obtain that any more. that many more, although we can get less.There’s a big price to pay if you go for anOR and fail, as that allows the Warriors to fast break. As has to try to win both the OR and turnover battle, and shoot better in order go put themselves in a position to win., unless both Curry, Thompson, and others shooters have a a very bad night.Not likely to happen.

  6. The Spus would be better off disrupting and getting steals and turnovers as much as the attempt to pound the offensive as I don’t thins the have the horses to dominant us on the glass. They don’t have a T. Gibson unless Blair plays. Isn’t he out for the serries?

  7. FB, it does seem like Popovich must try going big. If he could force Jackson to match, the game would be played on terms that would at least minimize the impact of the Spurs’ disadvantages in the open court.

    But Mark Jackson really has shown us some excellent coaching chops this year, nothing better or smarter than his response to losing Lee – forcing opponents’ bigs to defend the 3-pt line. So while Pop will have to at least try a twin-towers lineup, it’s an open Q whether the Ws rookies will permit him to stick with it. Green more-or-less handled Splitter in the last game on D, and his mobility gives Splitter problems on the other end. If Green and/or Barnes can continue to sink their 3s, Jackson has an effective counter to BigBall.

    Fun stuff. If I’m Popovich, I have no choice but to bet against two Ws rookies. If I’m Jackson, I have no choice but to bet on them. Which opposing game strategy will prevail boils down to how well the rookies perform. They have been delivering in the postseason.

    Green has emerged as a wild card (actually, his manic intensity makes him a sort of a wild-ass card), and Barnes has not only stepped up his game in the playoffs, but also shown truly impressive poise while doing it.

    If the rookies pull through again tonight, it would be legendary. Real basketball fairy-tale stuff.

    Win or lose, we’re going to see a great game tonight.

  8. Wonder if pop misses SJax right about now.

    • That thought crossed my mind too.

      • Yeah. Pop would have had to knock a heavy layer of bench dust off the guy, but he’d do it. That would have been something to see.

      • did anyone watch s.jackson’s games this season ? a couple of *possible* reasons popovich cut him — if he doesn’t have the legs, desire, focus to go hard on perimeter defense. absolutely required for any wing on SA as we know. how was his three point shooting — he’s not shy about taking them, but popovich does not appreciate wasted possessions, and he’s not going to tell a vet he’s shooting too much. distraction factor — what was jackson like with the media and such, including ‘mates, in SA, did he go about his bidness like a reserve role player or do his usual colorful commentary ? popovich might prefer the team focusing on their play.

        • Moto, there’s little doubt that Pop had excellent reasons to let Jackson go. He might even have had someone mathematically calculate SJax’ Expected Value. It was certainly the correct move at the time.

          And at the time, no one could have expected Mark Jackson to unleash a bizarrely effective Curry/Thompson.

          Now that Pop is suddenly facing something unique in the world of basketball, the decision points look different. SJax, for all his issues, might have been helpful to Popovich.

  9. warriorsablaze

    Great article on Steph in the playoffs. I see Felty got into it with Zach a bit on twitter regarding the article. I agree with FB that it’s not a “new” Steph Curry… but after screaming through the entire Smart nightmare, the Monta Ellis as PG period, and most of this season when Jack was handling, I’m happy that MJax has finally figured out how much more of a weapon he is with the ball in his hands. PUT THE BALL IN HIS HANDS AND WATCH THE MAGIC HAPPEN.

    • “A 45 percent 3-point shooter given total freedom to shoot off the dribble on the pick-and-roll is an anomaly for which NBA defenses just aren’t prepared… Golden State has scored…nearly four points better than their very good regular season, and their defense has basically held steady against two of the league’s eight best offenses.”

      That is the bottom line, in a nutshell.

      Draymond. DrayMond. Dray-Mond. DRAYMOND! frees Curry to kick NBA ass.

      What a strange development.

      • warriorsablaze

        Dray has been awesome in the playoffs. I hope he can continue to hit shots at a decent %… it was really the only thing keeping him from staying on the floor during the season.

        • Have to agree 100%, WAB. DG himself said he understood why NBA teams underestimated him in the draft, but as Mr. Big in college he couldn’t possibly have foreseen how important it would be for him to assume a precisely-defined bit role in the big show.

          What’s unique about his situation at this exact moment in time is that the Ws suddenly, absolutely, totally NEED him to play his MSU role, Mr. Everything.

          Fun stuff.

  10. warriorsablaze

    Hope you didn’t put too much money on the series line, Felt. Things fell apart dramatically tonight.

    Jack…. 1 assist in 34 minutes of running the point. Pretty much over any interest in re-signing him for next year. -19 for the game. Even with an off night Steph manages to be +1. (as far as single game +/- goes… which isn’t far)

    • it’s usually jack’s gaffes on offense that get picked at, but he’s often the weak link on defense. there was a crucial SA in bounds play when they had less than two seconds on the shot clock when he was completely burned for a lay up. through the Den series he was the perimeter defender exposed the most. his advocates point at his willingness to take pressure shots, but the offense that fails to create shots for others is generally being run by him, so that’s a bit of a tautology. no reason to believe that the offense without him next season wouldn’t find another to take those shots, whether thompson, rush, curry, or lee, barnes, green.

    • I didn’t pull the trigger. I was optimistic, but couldn’t generate enough confidence, which came out in my preview. Everytime a friend of mine told me the Warriors were a lock in the series today, I found myself giving them the counterargument.

      I stand by my analysis of the bet, though. If you believe the Warriors are the best team, getting laid +150 while they have homecourt advantage is a nice deal.

  11. Lee opens this defense up.

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