I recently saw a picture on Twitter showing the playoff bracket should the season end today, and it got me thinking. The Golden State Warriors currently hold a slim lead over the San Antonio Spurs for first place in the Western Conference. The projected Western Conference Finals series should rightfully be Golden State and San Antonio facing off for a spot in the NBA Finals. Both teams would have difficult roads to the Western Conference Finals, as the conference is very strong top to bottom this year. But, my prediction would put the Warriors and Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Let’s analyze what that series would look like.
I knew that these two teams were a little similar statistically speaking, but in researching them both I was amazed. Each team has had their fair share of misfortune as of late, with Golden State forward and leading scorer Kevin Durant going down with an MCL injury and, more recently, LaMarcus Aldridge’s heart arrhythmia health scare. Both teams have had extremely successful seasons and, with the Spurs’ late-season push, are competing for first place in the Conference.
But the similarities go even further than that. The two teams are towards the top of the league in almost every statistical category. Take these for example. Point differential: Golden State one, San Antonio two. Field Goal percentage: Golden State one, San Antonio four. Three Point percentage: San Antonio one, Golden State three. Defensively the similarities continue. The Warriors and Spurs are tied for first in OPP Field Goal percentage, and first and third respectively in OPP three point percentage.
So, let’s dig a little deeper into both teams and figure out how this game would work. Golden State is among the fastest playing teams in the league, and it shows in their stats. Golden State ranks 23rd in turnovers per game, but lead the league in steals per game. They have the highest assist to turnover ratio, the most assists, and the most blocks in the league. They have arguably the best shooting point guard in NBA history, a pure playmaker in Kevin Durant, and a strong defensive presence in Draymond Green. On the other side, you have the Spurs, with an experienced point guard in Tony Parker, strong paint presence with Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, and an MVP candidate of their own in Kawhi Leonard. Leonard averages more points per game (26.3) than Golden State’s highest scorer (Durant with 25.3 ppg). One edge I thought the Spurs would have in this game is their bench, but that’s not the case. San Antonio has ten players that average over five points a game, but the Warriors’ bench isn’t bad – nine players on the team average over five points a game.
Another point many will turn to is the fact that San Antonio has beaten the Warriors already twice this year, by more than 20 both times. I don’t feel like that’s a valid point. The first game was early in the season, while both teams were still trying to figure themselves out. That was before Durant started scoring in bunched, before Green got back to his Defensive Player of the Year form, and before Kawhi Leonard was scoring 30 a game on a regular basis. The second game was just over a week ago, and a game that was heavily advertised, hyped up, and looked forward to was, simply put, a flop. Both teams either rested their stars or held them out with injury precautions, leading to a battle of the reserves that San Antonio won behind a strong performance from Patty Mills and crew.
All of this leads up to one question: in a best-of-seven series, who gets the edge? I’m going to say the Spurs, on one condition. If San Antonio can control the tempo, they win this game. I feel like San Antonio has a slight edge when the game becomes a controlled half-court game. When Golden State gets going, it’s all over. A few quick layups quickly turns into more layups, faster shots, and sometimes – as we saw last night – pull up threes from the logo at midcourt from Stephen Curry. When they get up and down the court, they are fun to watch and you can see the confidence grow shot by shot. If San Antonio can control the tempo and take care of the ball, they will be able to compete with the Warriors. My prediction would be San Antonio getting the win in six games.