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.