Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors will bring their high-powered perimeter attack into battle with the well-rested San Antonio Spurs in what's sure to be a clash of styles in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Golden State rode Curry's hot hand and got huge contributions from Jarrett Jack, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut in its upset of the Denver Nuggets in the first round. Curry used the series to announce his arrival as the NBA's newest superstar, posting averages of 24.3 points, 9.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds on 43 percent shooting from long range. His 22-point third quarter in Game 4 was easily the defining moment of the series.
San Antonio will come into this matchup feeling fresh after handily dispatching the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-game sweep. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have never lost to the Warriors in San Antonio, and with the trio looking healthier than at almost any point this season, they'll look to keep it that way.
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Playoff Seeds: Warriors No. 6; Spurs No. 2
Playoff Records: Warriors 4-2; Spurs 4-0
Playoff Schedule: Game 1 Monday, May 6, 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT); Game 2 Wednesday, May 8, 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT); Game 3 Friday, May 10, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Games 4-7 TBD
What Everybody's Talking About: Can the Warriors Keep Scoring This Way?
The short answer is "yes."
Golden State shot 49 percent from the floor and slightly better than 40 percent from long range against the Nuggets, which seemed incredible when it was happening, but really wasn't that far off from the kind of accuracy it showed during the regular season.
Sure, Curry's explosive scoring bursts were impressive, but the Warriors were a team that shot a league-leading 40 percent from three-point land during the year. San Antonio is unlikely to permit quite so many baskets at the rim as the Nuggets did, but there's really no way it'll be able to put any more focus on Curry and the Warriors' cast of perimeter snipers.
Everything Denver did was designed to take the ball out of Curry's hands on the perimeter while closing out on Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack. Yet the Warriors still found a way to bury enough threes to win the series in six games.
Granted, San Antonio's defensive numbers during the regular season were significantly better than Denver's, but that's mostly applicable to the big men on the roster. Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer are probably just about as imposing as Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, one of whom will probably be chasing Curry around throughout the series.
The Warriors are going to find a way to get their shots up from beyond the arc, and when they do, there's an awful lot of evidence that says they'll go down at about a 40 percent clip.
What Nobody's Talking About: San Antonio's Pick-and-Roll
Everything Ty Lawson did in the first round, Parker will do better in the second. That means when Parker comes off of a screen from Tiago Splitter or Duncan, he's going to put even more pressure on Golden State's pick-and-roll defense than Lawson did.
And that's saying something.
Parker's best quality as a point guard is his ability to get defenders on their heels—it's how he manages to finish so well at the rim despite his slight frame. When he comes off of picks, he's going to take advantage of the huge cushion Warriors center Andrew Bogut allows when defending pick-and-roll sets. That'll allow Parker to either drill open 15-foot jumpers, toss in his patented floater or attack Bogut with a head of steam.
Either way, Parker is going to present a massive problem for the Warriors.
Lawson did a great job of getting into the lane and causing trouble, but Parker is a better decision-maker and a far more dangerous pocket passer. When he gets space at the elbow (and he most certainly will against the Warriors), he's going to have a field day.
Well, field series, I guess. But you get the idea.
Key Matchup: Harrison Barnes vs. Kawhi Leonard
Barnes enjoyed his own coming-out party against the Nuggets, and although it wasn't quite as pronounced as Curry's, it might end up being a huge key against the Spurs.
But because he punished Denver to the tune of 14.3 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting from long distance, he's on San Antonio's radar. And that means Leonard is going to be paying very close attention to him.
Leonard is emerging as one of the NBA's premier wing defenders, and his athleticism is going to make him a nightmare for the rookie. Don't be mistaken; Barnes is a phenomenally talented player in his own right, but under pressure, he's prone to picking up his dribble, taking the occasional ill-advised shot and generally doing the things that make rookies a liability in the postseason.
Barnes has shown plenty of recent signs that he's no ordinary first-year pro, though. He displayed a knack for drilling critical shots against the Nuggets and retained an unflappable demeanor throughout some of that series' tensest moments.
If Leonard shuts Barnes down (which is something he's more than capable of doing) and outruns the rookie in transition, Golden State could be in serious trouble. On the other hand, if Barnes continues his impressive growth and manages to play Leonard to something approximating a draw, the Spurs might be the ones worrying.
Don't Forget: The Spurs Don't Have a Weakness
That's obviously a broad generalization, but San Antonio is easily the most balanced, steady team remaining in the Western Conference. Golden State made it past the Nuggets in large part because George Karl's squad lacked a reliable perimeter shooter, had terrible spacing and couldn't stay organized on defense.
Those were key deficiencies that the Warriors exploited.
San Antonio, though, has plenty of shooters, a precision offense and a ridiculously disciplined defense. What they don't have is a glaring weakness for Golden State to attack.
And it's telling that throughout all of this analysis, Duncan's name has only come up tangentially. When the greatest power forward of all time is an afterthought, it's a pretty good sign that the Spurs are in excellent shape.
Prediction: Spurs in six.