7:00 PM EST, NBA TV – Line: San Antonio -5.5, Over/Under: 204.5
As the Regular Season hurdles to it’s conclusion, the inevitability of history being made begins to creep towards the forefront as the Golden State Warriors’ relentless pursuit of the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls takes them to San Antonio, where they will meet the final obstacle in their path, the Spurs. At seventy victories, already a franchise record, the Warriors (71-9, 1st in Pacific Division) need only win each of their final three outings to finish the season with the finest record in NBA History. However, it’s fitting that No. 72 could come against the Spurs, who throughout the entirety of the campaign have remained their chief competition. Steve Kerr and his charges have faced his former mentor Gregg Popovich three times already thus far, winning two out of three of those matchups, including most recently a resounding 112-101 victory at ORACLE Arena on Thursday Night. After a tightly contested First Quarter, the home side opened things up, outscoring the visitors 67-54 over the course of the following two stanzas. San Antonio struggled mightily to slow down the Dubs, but only succeeded in doing so for minor stretches of the game; the Warriors shot a blistering 54.2% from the field against one of the better defensive teams in the league, including a whopping 12-of-25 from beyond the arc (48.0%), while proving very efficient, assisting on thirty-three of their forty-five field goals. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry led the way with twenty-seven points on 11-of-19 shooting (57.9%), including 3-of-7 from downtown (42.9%), while also racking up five rebounds, nine assists, and a pair of steals. Harrison Barnes proved effective as well, totaling twenty-one points on 8-of-13 shooting (61.5%), with eight rebounds and an assist, while also knocking down three of his seven attempts from three to boot (42.9%). The key to victory was their ability to take moderate care of the basketball, which believe it or not has been one of this team’s few weaknesses throughout the season, particularly as they’ve arrived at this proverbial final leg. While Kerr has cultivated this group into the game’s most efficient offensive attack from a percentage standpoint, leading the league in Field Goal Percentage (48.8%), Two-Point Percentage (52.7%), and Three-Point Percentage (41.8%), along with Effective Field Goal Percentage, which compensates for the significance of three-pointers (56.3%), and Assists (29.1), they have also developed a troubling penchant for committing turnovers, averaging 15.2 per game. That would put them at sixth-worst in the NBA, while registering a turnover on 13.6% of their possessions (20th Overall). Granted, a big reason for that is the torrid pace at which they operate; Golden State averages 99.5 possessions per 48 minutes of play, the second-most in the league. Adhering to logic, the more possessions usually means the game is being played at faster pace, and in most cases the faster the game is being played, the higher the potential for turnovers, and after all, most transition opportunities derive from turnovers. And as fate would have it, during the month of Apri in which they have split their four games, they averaged 18.0 turnovers per outing, the highest such monthly figure this season. Then again, perhaps they’re playing too fast, for they have been neglecting the defensive awareness that has quietly sustained their run of success, allowing their opponents to dish out a ludicrous 27.3 assists per game, which is also the most they’ve permitted in any month. Furthermore, in their nine losses they have coughed up the rock an average of 16.4 times, opposed to 14.7 in their victories. Case in point; in the losses suffered against Boston (109-106) and Minnesota (124-117) over the past ten days, Kerr witnessed his charges commit a ridiculous forty-five turnovers alone, which occurred at home no less. Could it simply be a case of fatigue at the end of a marathon-esque campaign? Or are they finally beginning to waver with the Bulls’ hallowed record in sight? In all likelihood, we’d wager that it’s former rather than the latter, but either way, tonight’s trip to AT&T Center will serve as arguably their defining test.
Meanwhile, it’s not often that a team can win sixty-five games and still trail somebody else by five games in the standings, but that is the plight that has afflicted the Spurs (65-14, 1st in Southwest Division). With that said, we highly doubt that it really bothers Gregg Popovich all that much, as his team has quietly percolated in the background as their opponent has garnered the vast majority of the national media. But hey, this San Antonio we’re talking about, folks; the more boring they appear, the better they are. All misconceptions aside, these guys are anything bout boring; the Spurs are the most effective offensive unit this side of the Dubs themselves, averaging 103.9 points (9th Overall) on 48.6% shooting from the field (2nd Overall), including 51.7% from inside the three-point arc (3rd Overall) and 38.0% from beyond it (2nd Overall), while dishing out a healthy 24.7 assists (3rd Overall), leading to stellar 52.9% Effective Field Goal Percentage (2nd Overall). Oh, and you know that a team led by Coach Pop is going to take good care of the basketball, for the Spurs commit the fourth-fewest turnovers in the league (13.1). Granted, at 93.9 possessions per 48 minutes, they play at significantly slower pace that Golden State, which is probably why they commit far fewer turnovers. Perhaps that’s where that notion of being boring comes from? Anyways, as effective as San Antonio can be on the offensive end, the primary reason that they can go blow-for-blow with the defending champs is their prowess on the defensive end of the floor. Nobody has allowed fewer points this season than these guys (92.9), yielding 43.7% shooting from the field (3rd Overall), including 47.0% from within the three-point arc (3rd Overall) and a league-best 33.2% from beyond it (1st Overall), leading to the best Effective Field goal Percentage allowed thus far (47.7%). Furthermore, they simply don’t commit many fouls, racking up a league-low 17.4 personal fouls per game, while no team has seen their opponents make fewer free-throws against them (14.8). No wonder they’re such a tough matchup for the Warriors, with their ability to seal off the paint, while applying pressure to the perimeter without bailing them out with fouls. However, it’s difficult to make of their previous three meetings this season, given the fact that Popovich has taken an experimental approach to them, leaving many to ponder what a potential postseason series would look like. In those three matchups, the Spurs have been outscored by an average of 11.0 points while shooting just 43.9% from the field, including 35.2% from three, while committing an uncharacteristic 18.0 turnovers. Defensively they’ve struggled, permitting the Warriors to shoot 48.0% from the field, while dishing out 29.3 helpers. The prime takeaway from those meetings, particularly the pair at ORACLE Arena, is that Popovich’s charges have struggled to keep them bottled up at a slower pace, and have frequently succumbed to their breakneck tempo. But don’t fret Spurs fans, for in their only other meeting at AT&T Center, the home side slowed the game to a crawl, earning a hard-fought 87-79 victory. On that night, San Antonio smothered the champs, relegating them to a miserable 37.8% shooting from the field, including a dreadful 9-of-36 from beyond the arc (25.0%), while coming as close to shutting down the aforementioned Curry as possible, limiting the MVP to just fourteen points on 4-of-18 shooting (22.2%), including 1-of-12 from three (08.3%). The hosts’ size proved to be the difference, as the Spurs pummeled the Dubs in the painted area, with LaMarcus Aldridge leading the charge with twenty-six points on 11-of-25 shooting from the field (44.0%), along with fourteen of his team’s staggering fifty-seven rebounds. Oh, and then there is the small fact that the Spurs are an NBA-best 39-0 at home this season. Should make for an interesting game, folks. Let’s hope Popovich doesn’t pull a @#$% move and sit his starters…
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