San Antonio Spurs News

Spurs vs. Warriors: 2018 NBA playoffs preview

By Rob Wolkenbrod
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 22: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs battle for the opening tipoff during Game Four of the 2017 NBA Western Conference Finals at AT&T Center on May 22, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 22: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs battle for the opening tipoff during Game Four of the 2017 NBA Western Conference Finals at AT&T Center on May 22, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
facebooktwitterreddit
SAN ANTONIO, TX – MAY 22: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs battle for the opening tipoff during Game Four of the 2017 NBA Western Conference Finals at AT&T Center on May 22, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – MAY 22: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs battle for the opening tipoff during Game Four of the 2017 NBA Western Conference Finals at AT&T Center on May 22, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors will go head-to-head in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs.

After a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, the San Antonio Spurs were lined up to face the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs. It’s a rematch of the 2017 Western Conference Finals and a battle of the No. 2 and 7 seeds in the West, featuring two teams with some of the strongest resumes of the past decade.

For this series, which can potentially go seven games, it will play out in this format:

  • Game 1 (Away): Saturday, April 14 at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC
  • Game 2 (Away): Monday, April 16 at 10:30 p.m. ET on TNT and FSSW
  • Game 3 (Home): Thursday, April 19 at 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT and FSSW
  • Game 4 (Home): Sunday, April 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
  • Game 5 (Away): Tuesday, April 24 at TBD on TBD (if necessary)
  • Game 6 (Home): Thursday, April 26 at TBD on TBD (if necessary)
  • Game 7 (Away): Saturday, April 28 at TBD on TBD (if necessary)

With Game 1 just hours away, let’s break down what Spurs fans can expect in the first round, along with questions that accompany this. Is it a series San Antonio can pull off the upset in and advance to the second round?

Don’t expect Kawhi Leonard

More from Spurs News

San Antonio Spurs fans likely do not want to return to the 2017 Western Conference Finals, but it’s hard to ignore since it’s the Silver and Black’s first playoff series since. It had the makings of an entertaining run that could have gone more than four games, but the tide shifted in Game 1.

Kawhi Leonard was infamously closed out by Zaza Pachulia — thus creating the “Zaza Rule” — and hurt his ankle in the process. The then-MVP candidate did not return for the rest of the series, while the Spurs blew the lead in Game 1, lost, and were swept out of the postseason before the 2017 NBA Finals.

Well, about 11 months later, the Spurs and Warriors will rematch. Again, though, it’s without Leonard, who played just nine games in the 2017-18 season and last suited up on Jan. 13.

There’s no indication San Antonio will get its superstar back. He was last reported to be in New York, rehabbing the same quadriceps injury that plagued him throughout the season. The organization did not make anything official, either, but it would be a surprise if this shocking returned happened, and not just in the first round.

It comes down to this: Can the Spurs defeat Golden State in a seven-game series without Leonard? Well, that also depends on the opposition, who will not have one of its “Big Four” available starting Saturday.

Next: Stephen Curry's absence

OAKLAND, CA – MARCH 23: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on March 23, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA – MARCH 23: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on March 23, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Stephen Curry’s absence raises questions

Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson returned to full health for the Warriors, and so did Stephen Curry, except he returned to the injury list shortly after. He suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee, according to USA Today, and was ruled out of Round 1 of the 2018 NBA playoffs — well before Golden State’s opponent was announced.

Curry played in 51 of 82 games this season. In the missed-games span, the Warriors were just 17-14, with a 4-6 record since the MCL sprain on March 23. A 2-4 record in his previous absence preceded this.

According to SLAMOnline.com, ESPN’s Zach Lowe revealed that, due to Curry’s absence, “several coaches and execs” would prefer to play the Warriors, rather than the Utah Jazz or Portland Trail Blazers, in the first round of the playoffs. Does that make this a surprise blessing in disguise for the San Antonio Spurs?

Lowe Post podcast: @kevinarnovitz reveals his NBA awards ballot, and we discuss/debate our choices: https://t.co/MLWX51Crfd

— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) April 11, 2018

When the Warriors were at full strength, with Curry in the lineup, they defeated the Spurs three times. The fourth game was a loss when Curry, Durant and Thompson all sat out, and along with Draymond Green’s in-game injury. Those first three matchups had a score differential of +40 points (20, 17 and 3, respectively).

Without the two-time NBA MVP, Quinn Cook will step in at point guard. Since Curry’s latest injury, the former Duke star has averaged 15.2 points per game, 5.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds on 49.2 percent shooting and a 49 percent clip from 3-point range. This play even led to the Warriors giving him a multi-year contract. 

In Cook’s lone double-digit minute game against the Spurs, he shot just 1-for-6 from the field for 2 points. With Dejounte Murray potentially locked on him (or Thompson), how effective can Golden State’s replacement guard be?

Next: LaMarcus Aldridge's performance

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 3: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game against the LA Clippers on April 3, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 3: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game against the LA Clippers on April 3, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Will the real LaMarcus Aldridge please stand up?

LaMarcus Aldridge was spectacular for the San Antonio Spurs in the 2017-18 regular season. His revitalized play carried the team through their 82 games, most of which without Kawhi Leonard, to reach the playoffs and even hold a high seed (No. 3) for most of the season. 23.1 points per game fell just short of the six-time All-Star’s career-high, but it was his highest points average — by far — since signing with San Antonio in 2015.

However, Spurs fans will not forget Aldridge’s run in the 2017 postseason, which contributed to his offseason turmoil last summer.

After a solid run in the 2016 playoffs, Aldridge posted just 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds on 45.8 shooting in three rounds of games in 2017. These would not be poor numbers from someone positioned as the No. 3 or 4 option on the team, but after Leonard’s injury in the Western Conference Finals, it made the stats even more disappointing.

In Game 2, 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals, Aldridge averaged just 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds, on 38.5 percent shooting, in 25.6 minutes per game. The Spurs lost by double digits in all three matchups, and were swiftly bounced from the playoffs.

Which Aldridge will the Spurs get in the first round? They need him to be the regular-season version, but last postseason’s performance may still be fresh for some.

Next: Questions

SAN ANTONIO,TX – APRIL 1 : Pau Gasol #16 of the San Antonio Spurs high fives teammates after a basket against the Houston Rockets at AT&T Center on April 1 , 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO,TX – APRIL 1 : Pau Gasol #16 of the San Antonio Spurs high fives teammates after a basket against the Houston Rockets at AT&T Center on April 1 , 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

Other playoff questions

With the Aldridge, Curry and Leonard-less points out of the way, there’s still more to dissect between the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. Let’s do some rapid-fire questions on this series and further dive into it:

Can the Spurs win on the road?

The Spurs struggled mightily on the road this season, with a 14-27 mark that’s the worst among playoff teams from both conferences. To win this series, they must take one, potentially two games at Oracle Arena. Otherwise, there’s no chance at claiming four games over the Warriors.

More from Air Alamo

Will Gregg Popovich rely on Pau Gasol?

The Warriors play an athletic, small-ball lineup that does not exactly match Pau Gasol’s game. He played a combined 26 minutes in the last two games against Golden State, both of which were off the bench, and shot just 4-for-14. Look for the Spurs to match the small-ball look and potentially limit the veteran center’s minutes for this series, unless Gregg Popovich feels he can contrast the opposition’s style and play Gasol meaningful minutes.

Stephen Curry will not play, but what about everyone else?

Sure, the Warriors will not have their face of the franchise. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Quinn Cook, Nick Young and Zaza Pachulia provide a more-than-formidable team behind Curry. There’s every reason to fear this talent and depth, and that’s without mentioning Jordan Bell and Shaun Livingston. This series is hardly a sure thing.

Next: Top 25 players in SAS history

Will the Spurs win this series?

San Antonio will put up a fight in some of these games. The road troubles are concerning, however, and the matchup problems Golden State provides might be too much. Aldridge and company will sneak out at least one game, but this is the Warriors’ series, who take it 4-1.

facebooktwitterreddit