Game two: (2) San Antonio Spurs @ (1) Golden State Warriors
by Mark Deeks
In an amazing game one, the Warriors came back from a 25 point deficit to win 113-111. After a remarkably slow start in which they looked sloppier than at any time the whole year prior, the Warriors caught a ‘break’ – by which I mean, were the beneficiaries of a deliberate undercut by Zaza Pachulia – when San Antonio’s superstar Kawhi Leonard rolled his ankle twice in a few minutes, the same already-fragile ankle that kept him out of game six of the semi-finals series against the Houston Rockets. With Kawhi gone, and Tony Parker not in the game, the Spurs suddenly became overmatched.
Leonard is currently listed as “doubtful” for game two. Per the NBA’s own Operations Manual, being listed as “doubtful” means a “25% chance that the player will play in the game”. On the other side, Andre Iguodala is listed as “questionable” with a sore knee, which means a 50% chance.
Parker is out for the duration and will play under no circumstances. Backup Warriors forward Kevon Looney is also definitely out, but this matters not. He wasn’t playing anyway.
Who will replace him?
When Kawhi – who had been absolutely excellent in the first half – was ruled out of the game, someone had to shelter the offensive burden. This duty fell largely upon old man Manu Ginobili, who responded with 17 points on 7-10 shooting, alongside three steals.
It was not vintage Manu; he made some sloppy errors of his own, with both fouls and passes. But once again, he found an extra gear he had been hiding. Manu has been rested for years for precisely these moments. He may not have 30+ minutes in the legs any more, but he has 20+, and he will need them to take the large share of the ball that the injuries around him necessitate. He is going to overachieve for his cost, thus making him a valuable pick.
Conversely, Pau Gasol is not a favourable match-up this series. The Spurs have used their size advantage all season, going bigger at a time when most other teams have gone small, yet as skilled as he is, Gasol by this point is extremely slow, an unfavourable proposition against a Warriors team that has an untold number of athletic long limbed 6’7ish swingman to compete with. Gasol’s five fouls speak to his troubles keeping up, and while his skill level is sufficiently high that he will never be a non-factor, the match-ups must be considered against his fantasy cost here.
In his stead, David Lee had a lively game one, better than his stat line of zero points, seven rebounds, one assist and nothing else speaks to. Lee no longer has the athleticism of his youth, but he is agile enough to just about keep pace when backtracking on defense and trying to rebound outside of his area. Lee would be a very cheap pick, as well as one with a minimal impact – he might average 3/3 in this series, which is essentially nothing, but he also might have a couple of decent games off the bench. It depends how much you have left to spend after getting the good stuff in.
Patty Mills struggled badly, hitting only 1-8 shots in 37 minutes and recording only three assists. He neither found nor took good looks, and of his six three point misses, many were forced. Off the bench, rookie point guard Dejounte Murray (in and out of the rotation in the playoffs) had 13 pretty good minutes, scoring 6 points on 6 shots with some decent defensive reads thrown in. Yet neither of those things will change the minutes balance much. Mills is still the most talented guard shooter, and he, Manu and Danny Green’s usual big-minute-low-output nights will dominate the guard minutes. Despite the Warriors’s good reads and traps, what was a 5 point night for Mills in game one could just as well be a 20 point outing in game two; it only takes one or two open three point looks, and then he’s off. Mills therefore is still a cheap pick worth making.
For the Warriors, Zaza Pachulia’s most important role in the game was his deliberate shuffle underneath a jumping-to-shoot Leonard. But outside of that one slightly callous moment, he also played well. Enjoying favourable match-ups against Spurs post players that are no noticeably quicker than him, Pachulia had 11 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, a block and a steal on 4-6 shooting from the field and 3-4 from the line.
For all the talk of the Death Line-up featuring Draymond Green at small ball centre, Pachulia is a very solid traditional centre and has been for a decade. This is a good series for him, as well as theoretically being good ones for David West behind him (similarly unathletic) and JaVale McGee (whose main ability of running his counterparts off the court should be easily done here). But while the latter two had empty game ones, Pachulia shone, rotating well, attacking the glass, and being plenty solid offensively. This may continue.
Maintaining the rotation
Despite the fact that rotations normally tighten the deeper a playoff run goes, Golden State still went their usual eleven deep in game one. Shaun Livingston (four points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal) was the only bench player to play more than 10 minutes, as the Big Four Plus Zaza starting unit shouldered the heavy majority of the minutes. No one else other than Livingston achieved much off the bench – as above, Iguodala was hobbled and ineffective, while no one else played enough to do much, and nor likely will they.
Livingston was the only bench player to score more than three points and grab more than two rebounds. This series for the Warriors will thus be about the starters. And the starters are an extremely known commodity. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant combined for 74 of the Warriors’ 113 points, while Pachulia’s 11 were third highest on the team and Klay Thompson shot only 2-11. Klay is therefore due a bounce-back game. I wouldn’t bet against him.