NBA Playoff Discussion; Western Conference Finals Game 1 – Spurs @ Warriors

The long-awaited Western Conference Finals started last night, and it was a great game. The Spurs came out fighting, like they have been for the majority of the playoffs, with tough battles against Memphis and even tougher battles in Houston preparing them for the biggest test of all – Golden State. The NBA’s super team came out looking quite sluggish to begin with, but that’s to be expected considering how easy they’ve had it in the West so far, and their week long break was still in their systems. But Game 1 was truly one of the greatest games to start a Conference Finals, so let’s get into it.

The Spurs had a great start to Game 1, going up big against the Warriors in the first half, gaining a huge 25 point lead, shocking every NBA fan lucky enough to watching this incredible sight. Golden State, like I said, came out looking sluggish after walking their way to the Conference Finals, and were perhaps taken aback by a San Antonio squad who were prepared to fight until the final buzzer. The Warriors were doing everything wrong, turning the ball over, missing open shots, Steph Curry airballed a three pointer to end the second quarter. They just couldn’t find the answer to getting past the #1 defensive team in the NBA, led, of course, by Kawhi Leonard, who was having his own way in the first half. Whether it was going to the lane and throwing down a mean hammer, or pulling up from the mid-range, Kawhi was doing whatever he wanted, and then stopped the Warriors from doing anything on the other end. But nothing lasts forever, and you can’t beat the Warriors for just 24 minutes, you’ve got to fight for the entire 48. The Spurs’ hopes of taking Golden State at home were destroyed when Kawhi injured that left ankle that was causing him so much discomfort against the Rockets, but continued to play, only to hurt it again a few plays later, and had to be carried off for the rest of the game. The Warriors, naturally, chose this moment to strike, and x2 MVP Stephen Curry was leading the way offensively.

Remember that Warriors team we saw last season during the regular season, when they just killed every team who came within five points of winning? The Warriors became that team again, only this time with an offensive beast in Kevin Durant. The super team’s two leading scorers, KD and Steph, took over the game and combined for a huge 74 points, and both of them shot over 50% from the field. They were pulling up from everywhere on the court, and if they missed a three, it was no problem, they just grabbed the offensive board and tried again, and rarely did they miss two in a row. You think I’m exaggerating? Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs in rebounds, and he only played 2 quarters of basketball, that’s how poor San Antonio were on the glass when they’re superstar left the court. We saw the MVP Curry, the one who pulled up from anywhere, and with such a confidence that he’d turn around before the shot hit the net. There was one play, where Steph stole the inbound, stepped back, and splashed a three, and I just thought to myself, “man, it’s been so long since we’ve seen that kind of Steph, he’s so fun to watch.” The Warriors are at their best when Steph is confident, and when KD is pulling up and shooting contested threes over LaMarcus Aldridge, there’s little more you can do than just sit there and admire these offensive freaks do their thing. It was certainly a tale of two halves in Game 1 of the WCFs, emphasised by Steph’s dramatic improvement in the 3rd and 4th quarter.

A few things to note:

  • I’m confident in believing that the Spurs would have won this game by double digits, not in the 20’s, but double digits, had Kawhi Leonard not gone down on that left ankle. He has also been confirmed to be out for Game 2, so expect a similar outcome to Game 1.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge needs to step up on the defensive end, if the Spurs want to have any hope of surviving this series. His offense has been consistently good over the last few games.
  • Klay Thompson has had no impact on the playoffs this season, despite an average performance in Game 4 against Utah. The Warriors have one of the most devastating offenses in NBA history when he’s knocking down threes, and I don’ like to see a player like Klay go through a rough stretch, so here’s to hoping he bounces back.

NBA Discussion; The Warriors are Showing Signs of Weakness – 17th Jan 2017

The NBA’s so called “super team”, aka the Golden State Warriors, are boasting a significantly worse record in comparison to last years record breaking squad. Despite the trade move for former MVP and current 6’11 beast Kevin Durant in the offseason, the Warriors are clearly not the squad they were last year, or a better one for that matter. Now I’m not saying that the Warriors aren’t a special team, they truly are one of the best of all time, but with the star talent they’re boasting they should be beating every team by 10-20 points. In reality though, this supposed super squad are 0-2 against the 7th seed Memphis Grizzlies, including blowing a 24 point lead to this team two weeks ago. That game was a revelation to the rest of the world, showing us that the Warriors are facing some serious chemistry issues, not to mention that clear lack of inside defenders and shot blockers in the line-up. So just what is the formula for beating the most stacked team in NBA history? And why is this team putting up such a weak season for a squad containing the best shooters in recent years?

Let’s talk about the chemistry problem. In the final minute of the Warriors – Grizzlies game Saturday two weeks ago, after holding a 19 point lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Warriors held a measly 1 point lead against a squad they’d already been blown out by only a month previously. In what was the biggest display of the super teams chemistry problem, we saw Kevin Durant take the ball from Steph Curry, who is statistically the greatest shooter of all time, and demand that he take the clutch shot to win the game. After a weak screen and 16 seconds of the shot clock wasted, Durant pulls up from outside the 3 point line with Zach Randolph in his face, clanking the rim with the ball, allowing the Grizzlies to gain possession. Not only was this clearly a bad offensive possession and shot, the Warriors refused to hustle and go after the rebound, giving the Grizzlies time to get a basket to send the game to overtime. But this wasn’t where we could most clearly see that the Warriors have an obvious chemistry issue, that came after Durant’s wasted 3. As the team walks back on defence, we see Draymond Green, one of the smarter players in the league in terms of basketball IQ, screaming at Kevin Durant for taking the ball from Steph. Green, like the rest of the world, obviously acknowledged the fact that Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter in history, we’ve already seen that a defender has no affect on his shot in his record breaking 403 three pointers last season, so he was the clear choice to take the game winning shot in that game. Durant, of all people, should know this better than anyone, considering Curry hit a half court game winning 3 pointer against his former squad, the OKC Thunder, last year. From my own experience as a basketball player, if the game is on the line, you give the ball to the best shooter on the team, you don’t even need to be a player to acknowledge that. I understand that the Warriors players, including Draymond Green, played lazily in not going for that rebound, but Green’s frustration at Durant is definitely deserved, I mean, it’s clear to see that Green is absolutely furious. There’s no denying that the Warriors are a superstar team, that’s a fact at this stage, but they need to sort this chemistry issue out soon, unless they want a repeat of last years NBA Finals, and we all know what happened then. ( Yes, they blew a 3-1 lead )

But more so than the chemistry problem, the Warriors are lacking in a shot blocker, a superstar inside defender, other than Javale McGee, but the Shaqtin a Fool MVP makes far too many mistakes in-game, causing him to be replaced by offensive minded Zaza Pachulia. Golden State have a huge defensive problem, and teams like the Grizzlies, who can boast a huge size advantage in players like Marc Gasol, are exploiting this flaw in the team, repeatedly going into the post and bodying Zaza. This is why teams like the Grizzlies are beating the Warriors, despite their superstar talent. The main reason why teams had such a hard team scoring against the Warriors last season was the presence of Andrew Bogut, a prolific shot blocker and interior defender, putting a body in the post, stopping players like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph from abusing the paint. Bogut’s tremendous season in terms of defense last year made it even more shocking when he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in the off-season, where he’s having an awful season with the second-to-last seed in the western conference. And another thing, as outstanding a player as Curry is, he clearly lacks the defensive mindset and ability to guard other star point guards in the league, Kyrie Irving and James Harden instantly spring to mind. Although he led the league in steals over the last two seasons, Curry simply can’t stay in front of Kyrie and Harden, who exploit Curry’s poor defence rather than going inside, allowing either a free lane to the hoop, a mid-range pull-up, or a drive and kick to an open 3 point shooter, which has become a speciality of James Harden’s this season. To be fair to Curry though, he played solid defence on Kyrie in the Warriors’ 35 point blowout of the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, in one of the Cavs weakest showings since the first 2 games of last years’ NBA Finals. But the reigning champions of the NBA have obviously acknowledged that Curry is a weakness on defence on most occasions. We saw it on Christmas Day, when Kyrie Irving bullied Steph Curry all game, in the Cavs 1 point victory over Golden State. And with the Cavs recent acquisition of 3 point deadeye Kyle Korver, Curry’s defence is going to have to improve as soon as possible, or Klay Thompson will be forced to double team off Korver which will no doubt lead to numerous baskets from deep. But these two defensive problems are easily fixed for a team with enough talent to attract almost any free agent, possible Hassan Whiteside when his contract runs out at Miami. As for Curry’s defensive issues; an easily solved problem for one of the best players of all-time. ( Yes I said it. )

Look, there’s no doubt in my mind, or anyone’s mind for that matter, that the Golden State Warriors are close to being unstoppable, an acquisition of a prolific shot blocker and some time to solve the chemistry issue being the final steps in the matter, but these issues do need to be solved sooner rather than later, before other teams in the league start to follow in the Grizzlies tactics and just bully Zaza Pachulia down in the post. But the most important thing; I can proudly say my Houston Rockets are 1-0 against the stacked team of superstars, a stat I should be able to continue to say as long as James Harden keeps up his MVP-like run of a season.

*An NBA discussion like this is completely new to me, especially in a public post, but I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing on this topic in particular. I would really appreciate some feedback on this post, just to see if others have enjoyed it as much as I have, considering I do plan to stick with posts like this for a while. Thank you!*