Who Has the Edge in Warriors-Spurs New Best-of-3 Series?
Even though the Warriors have tied things up at 2-2, the fact that two of the remaining three games are scheduled for San Antonio gives the veteran Spurs a slight edge on the up-and-coming Warriors.
What happened in Game 4 does cast some doubt on that last statement, though.
Behind some stifling defense from Andrew Bogut and yet another stop on Harrison Barnes' postseason grow-up tour, the Dubs evened the score against the Spurs. And in an ironic reversal of fortunes, it was Golden State that overcame a late-game deficit to secure the win.
San Antonio had been making a habit of charging back against the Warriors, erasing big leads in Games 1 and 2. This time, it was Mark Jackson's squad that fought out of an eight-point hole with just 4:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Stephen Curry was clearly hobbled, but managed to give his team 39 rather stationary minutes and an impressive 22 points on just 15 shots.
Bogut and Barnes were the Warriors' most important players (with an honorable mention nod to Jarrett Jack), as the former pulled down 18 rebounds and put the clamps on Tim Duncan down the stretch.
Barnes, the 20-year-old rookie, became Golden State's go-to option against the undersized Tony Parker in the waning minutes. Though he shot just 9-of-26, the small forward routinely got good looks in the lane and could have earned far more than seven free throws had the whistle been slightly kinder.
Having now seen the Warriors for a total of 10 playoff games, there's no doubt that their combination of youth, athleticism, size and star power is for real. This is a team that belongs among the final eight clubs that are still playing.
Here's the thing, though: The Spurs have seen all of this before. In fact, they've seen everything in their decade-and-a-half of dominance. The Warriors are a worthy opponent, but many better squads have fallen to San Antonio's organized brand of basketball.
Obviously, the Spurs' biggest advantage is the fact that two of the next three games are scheduled to take place in their gym. Now, if the Warriors somehow steal Game 5 in San Antonio and return to Oracle Arena with a chance to close things out, that seventh game might not ever happen. But assuming we're in for the full seven games in this series, the Spurs' history against the Warriors (both recent and ancient) gives them a huge advantage.
Golden State snatched Game 2 in San Antonio, but all that did was crack the goose egg sitting in the Dubs' win column over the past 16 seasons in San Antonio. Now, Golden State can boast one win on the Spurs floor since 1997. That's a step in the right direction, but there's a long way to go before the Warriors should ever be favored to win at the AT&T Center.
Looking at what's been happening more recently between these two teams, it's hard to ignore the number of quality looks the Spurs have been getting. San Antonio's offense passes up good shots for great ones, and has missed an uncharacteristic number of open attempts (especially from its beloved corners).
In Game 4, the Spurs shot just 26 percent from long range despite enjoying a ton of uncontested opportunities. That's well below their playoff average of 34 percent—which, in turn, is significantly worse than the 38 percent figure they posted during the regular season.
That's a roundabout way of saying that San Antonio's shooting is likely to regress to the mean, which should lead to a better percentage from long range during the balance of its series against the Warriors. This seems especially likely because Golden State simply isn't doing a good job of running the Spurs off the three-point line.
Throw in the dicey injury statuses of Curry and Bogut, and the Spurs have yet another thing going for them.
Look, there's definitely a case to be made for the Warriors winning this series. They've shown enough talent on both ends of the floor to give San Antonio a run, and those huge leads in Games 1 and 2 weren't accidents.
In addition, Bogut has proved that he's capable of shutting Duncan down in the low post. Check out the Spurs big man's post-halftime shot chart Sunday for evidence of just how dominant Bogut can be on the inside:
Duncan 3rd quarter through OT. YOU GOT BOGUT'D. twitter.com/EyeOnBasketbal…— Eye on Basketball (@EyeOnBasketball) May 12, 2013
There's more, too: Gregg Popovich can't find any place to hide Tony Parker on defense (see: Barnes' repeated post-ups) and Manu Ginobili hasn't shown that he's still capable of functioning as a reliable third option.
There are strong arguments to be made for both squads' chances to advance to the Western Conference Finals, but it's just too hard to ignore San Antonio's home-court advantage. That's not exciting analysis, but it's the truth.
History doesn't count for as much as the numbers might make it seem, largely because this version of the Warriors is only responsible for a couple of those 29 straight losses in San Antonio. And, perhaps just as importantly, this version of the Warriors is responsible for the win that snapped the skid.
But the Spurs went 35-6 at home this year, while the Warriors were just 19-22 on the road.
With a combination of unmatched playoff experience, a coach more accustomed to making the necessary playoff adjustments and a system that has been generating plenty of good scoring opportunities, the Spurs are still the team to beat in this series—even if they're now just barely holding on to that distinction.
*All stats via NBA.com unless otherwise indicated.
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