To say the scheduling of games during the second round of the 2013 NBA playoffs has been strange is perhaps massaging it in the nicest way possible.
Not only did the Association inexplicably take a day off on Thursday, but it returned Friday with the two series that played Wednesday—giving the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and a long midweek vacation. Those teams returned to the court last night looking either "well-rested" or "rusty," depending on your perspective.
Sunday's scheduling is again an exercise in curiosity—albeit a little more understandable. With Mother's Day being honored around the country, perhaps the NBA wanted to give the hardest-working people on the planet a bit of a reprieve on their special day.
But the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors are in action while the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are off.
Not that we're complaining or anything. Though Chicago-Miami has gotten the most publication due to the series' physical nature, Golden State-San Antonio has been almost inarguably Round 2's most entertaining slate of games.
Game 1 was a double-overtime instant classic and both teams showed courageous resiliency in the series' other two contests. But with the Spurs taking a 2-1 series lead heading into Sunday's Game 4 at Oracle Arena, the Warriors' backs are planted firmly on the wall. If San Antonio wins on Sunday, folks might as well Sharpie the ageless Spurs into the Western Conference finals.
That being said, it's become impossible to count out Stephen Curry and these Warriors. With that in mind, let's take a look at a few key storylines to Game 4 while also noting when and where you can watch all the action.
Time: Sunday, May 12, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Oracle Arena in Oakland
Series Record: Spurs Lead 2-1
Will Stephen Curry Recapture His Three-Point Stroke?
Dirty little secret of this series: Stephen Curry has been great for exactly 33.3 percent of the contests. After having arguably the postseason's best individual performance in Game 1, scoring 44 points and dishing out 11 assists while playing all but four seconds of a double-overtime loss, Curry has struggled to regain his stroke.
He's hit only 12-of-37 from the field in the past two games, including a disconcerting 5-of-15 from beyond the arc. The Warriors needed a career night from Klay Thompson to take Game 2, and they cratered without Curry raining shots from all over the floor.
Part of that is easily explainable. His legs looked stiff on Friday and even his open shots seemed to be hitting front rim. The old adage goes "you live by the three, you die by the three" for a reason, and Curry is gasping a bit for air right now.
What's more notable is that the Spurs have made a few key adjustments to make Curry's life more difficult—especially in pick-and-roll situations.
During Game 1, the Warriors torched San Antonio's big men—particularly Tim Duncan—by running high screens with Curry and Andrew Bogut. The Spurs have long defended the pick-and-roll by having their big man stick around the foul line rather than crash on the ball-handler or trap aggressively.
As a result, they strategically give up quite a few decent looks from mid-range. But with Curry, whose shot-making skills do not know the bounds of normal NBA expectations, those mid-range shots were turning into three-pointers.
Watch here as Duncan hangs back and Cory Joseph gives the Kel Mitchell "aww here it goes" reaction:
The last two games—though mostly in Game 3—San Antonio has adjusted that strategy. Duncan is venturing out almost to the three-point line to bother Curry with his length. Though that leaves open the possibility of Curry blowing past Duncan for a layup, the Spurs seem willing to take that vs. leaving Curry open for a three.
It's paid dividends so far. Curry hasn't had NBA Jam fire torching the net every time he takes a shot from distance, and the Warriors' offense scored only 99.1 points per 100 possessions in Game 3. It will be interesting to see whether Curry adjusts and starts taking more shots around the rim on Sunday.
Can Tony Parker Ascend the Way he Did in Game 3?
For all the heaping praise thrown on Tim Duncan for his renaissance 2012-13 season, the Spurs don't function without Tony Parker. He's been their best player for the last three seasons—and that's only because Parker missed 26 games in 2009-10 with an injury.
Continually underrated in the "best point guard" debate, you can see San Antonio slowly building around Parker when looking at year-to-year rosters.
The move away from punishing inside—though that's returned a bit this year with the Duncan-Tiago Splitter front line—and emphasis on quick, rapid-strike ball movement is based around Parker's skill set.
The Spurs, for anyone who actually watches them play rather than affixes a "boring" label to their core, are thrilling. They run a never-ending series of pick-and-rolls, most of which are designed to get Parker or Manu Ginobili in the lane to create.
When those sputter, the entire offense, well, goes straight to hell in a handbasket. And that was the case for some of Game 1 and almost the entirety of Game 2. Klay Thompson, an underrated on-ball defender, did a masterful job getting through screens and contesting shots.
Seeing that Thompson (and Jarrett Jack to a lesser extent) could get through those initial screens, Gregg Popovich did what he always does—he made what seems to be a perfect adjustment. San Antonio couldn't abandon the pick-and-roll with Parker completely, so what did they do? They made it even more deadly.
While they showed this throughout the regular season, the Spurs increasingly relied on sending two screeners Parker's way. Golden State wants Thompson to fight through those screens and Thompson is good at doing so. But having two behemoths impeding your progress is far too much to ask, as we see here as Parker coolly knocks down a jumper.
If the Warriors switched, as they did on the play below, Parker would simply abuse the slower-footed player put in front of him off the dribble—Draymond Green in this set.
The result was Parker having his best game of the postseason. He scored 32 points in 35 minutes, knocking down 13-of-23 shots en route to keying San Antonio's victory.
Golden State will need to tinker with its rotation to keep its perimeter defenders out of those situations by allowing switches. If Mark Jackson can't find a proper answer, the Warriors might fold again defensively.
Can the Warriors Find a Workable Lineup That Isn't Their Starting 5?
If there's one universal truth of this series, it's this: The Warriors are a very good basketball team when their starting five players (at least, the lineup that's started most in the playoffs)—Curry, Thompson, Green, Harrison Barnes and Bogut—are on the floor.
They are plus-19 for the series through three games, which is by far their best and most-used unit and score a whopping 122.1 points per 100 possessions when those players share the floor, per NBA.com.
That number would break the NBA scoring sound barrier if prorated over an entire season. The problems for Golden State, however, come when things start getting mixed up. They are minus-22 for the remainder of the series when those players aren't on the floor together, and the Warriors have cratered with any major prolonged stretches without Curry or Thompson.
Juxtapose that with the Spurs. Popovich's most-used five-man unit—the one that features Ginobili in the starting lineup without Splitter—is minus-eight for the series. In fact, five of Golden State's seven most-used lineups have come with a net negative result, per NBA.com.
It's been those random moments—the ones where both teams have gone nonstandard in their rotations—where San Antonio has held court.
Now these are minuscule sample sizes we're working with here. What bearing they hold over the long term is questionable, but it speaks to a larger issue for the Warriors that isn't there with the Spurs.
Who wins Game 4?
Mark Jackson rightfully doesn't trust having too many bench players on the floor at once. The Warriors have two lineups that have played 25 or more minutes in this postseason. They are the starting five in this series and that same unit with Jack substituted for Green, per NBA.com.
And the Warriors have been a full eight points worse with Jack on the floor this postseason—so it's not like he's helping matters much (especially in this series).
The easy solution to that is Mark Jackson just riding that lineup until it falls apart. But Bogut can't sustain long-term minutes with his injury history, and we all could probably do without Festus Ezeli getting the nod again.
Jackson needs to find a rotation that works in short spurts so he gets Curry and Thompson some rest. If not, the Warriors' next game after Sunday at Oracle Arena might not be for quite a few months.