Although the San Antonio Spurs could very well be trailing the Golden State Warriors 2-0 in the best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinals, the Spurs found a way to pull out Game 1, so the series is currently even after the Warriors' Game 2 triumph.
Which player is the biggest key to the Spurs' Game 3 success?
Despite Golden State's status as a No. 6 seed, the Warriors have looked like the fresher and more explosive team through the series' first two games. All they have to show for it is a split, though, so the Spurs are still in great position despite not playing their best basketball for long stretches.
The Warriors appear to be energized right now, but their confidence will be through the roof if they beat the Spurs in Game 3. Because of that, San Antonio needs this game in order to reassert its dominance. Here are three Spurs stars who must step up in Game 3 in order for them to regain their edge.
The Spurs have a strong nucleus of veteran players, but it can be argued that Tony Parker is the most important among them. Not only does the offense run through him as the point guard, but his playoff excellence makes him a very dangerous player.
Parker won the NBA Finals MVP Award in 2007, and his game has gotten exponentially better since then. He is a constant threat offensively as he has scored at least 20 points in five of the Spurs' six playoff games this season, and he needs to continue that string of fine play.
As good as Parker has been, opposing point guard Stephen Curry has actually been better. Curry dropped 44 points on the Spurs in a losing-effort in Game 1, and while he stepped aside for Klay Thompson in Game 2, he was still key to Golden State's victory.
The Spurs have played with fire throughout this series, and even though they got away with it in Game 1, Parker fully realizes that they can't fall behind again, according to the Spurs' Twitter feed.
"We were in a deep hole. It’s tough to come back twice like that. We cut it to 7 or 8, but we just didn’t have enough tonight.” Tony Parker— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) May 9, 2013
Parker is a calming presence and the Spurs need him now more than ever. San Antonio is a veteran-laden team that never panics, however, the Warriors are giving it all it can handle at this point. Parker needs to take his game to the next level in Game 3 in order to finally put some pressure on the younger and less-experienced Warriors. If Parker can do that, then Golden State's mettle will truly be tested.
While Kawhi Leonard is often forgotten about amid all the veteran stars the Spurs possess, there is no doubt that he is a key contributor. Leonard is the only true wing player on the team and he can do a little bit of everything. He scores, defends, shoots, dunks and affects the game in a multitude of ways.
In fact, Leonard slammed home a monster dunk that almost allowed San Antonio to come back in Game 2. It ultimately didn't happen, though, and Leonard will have to be better in Game 3.
Leonard definitely has some offensive skill, but he is the fourth scoring option behind Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, so anything he contributes in that regard is generally a bonus. Leonard's true worth comes as a perimeter defender. His length and aggressiveness makes him a nightmare for opposing guards.
With that said, Leonard has struggled at times in this series. He was tasked with covering Curry in Game 1 and it didn't go well, according to J.A. Adande of ESPN.
Curry toying with poor Kawhi Leonard, lulling him to sleep and then slipping by, leaving Leonard to ask teammates, where's the help?— J.A. Adande (@jadande) May 7, 2013
Whether Leonard is asked to guard Curry or Thompson in Game 3, he can't allow them to go off like they have been. Guard play has been key in this series and it is why the Warriors have looked like the better team. Provided Leonard can lock down one half of Golden State's dynamic duo in Game 3, though, things will be looking up for the Spurs.
Manu Ginobili has been a huge reason for the Spurs' dominance over the years, but he has been hobbled by injuries for much of the season and hasn't been great throughout the playoffs thus far. Ginobili is only averaging 11 points per game in six playoff contests and his shooting has been incredibly inconsistent.
Ginobili did hit a huge game-winning shot in overtime of Game 1 against Golden State, but he only shot 25 percent for the game, and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich wasn't happy with his play prior to that shot, according to FOX Sports.
Classic Coach Pop on @manuginobili: "I went from trading him on the spot to wanting to cook him breakfast tomorrow."— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) May 7, 2013
Aside from that shot, Ginobili's play has been spotty. He wasn't asked to play a ton against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round as the Spurs had that series well in hand, but he hasn't responded well to increased minutes against the Warriors. The 35-year-old Ginobili will need to pick up his game in order to combat the hot shooting of Curry and Thompson. Manu is the only guy on the Spurs' roster who can match them shot for shot, but he hasn't been doing it.
Ginobili is just 3-for-15 from long range in this series, and he is hurting the Spurs more than helping him. The Warriors love to speed up the tempo, whereas the Spurs are a more deliberate team. Ginobili is a guy who can play Golden State's style of game if need be, though. He's much slower than he used to be and isn't as explosive either, but the Spurs could really use a vintage Manu performance in Game 3.
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