San Antonio Spurs power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, guards Stephen Curry.
It seems like just yesterday that we watched the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs prepare to duke it out in the 2017 NBA Playoffs. We didn’t know it then but that series would prove to be a defining moment for both franchises.
You can trace the ripple effects of that playoff series in a wide arc across both franchises. Without that injury, maybe Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan never trade places, the Raptors never beat the Warriors in the Finals, and the Spurs never draft Keldon Johnson.
It’s impossible to say, but it’s fascinating how the two franchises followed distinctly different paths since meeting in the 2017 playoffs only to end up in somewhat similar destinations.
This year, the Spurs and Warriors are both fighting to return to the postseason. The Spurs are betting on getting there by letting their young guys run wild, with a little help from the veterans now and again. Meanwhile, Golden State has retooled around Stephen Curry and the second overall pick from this year’s draft, James Wiseman.
The Spurs and Warriors haven’t really had a competitive game in a few years. Tonight’s contest might be the most well-balanced contest we’ve had between the two teams since that fateful night in 2017. Here are the matchups that will determine who comes away as the winner.
Time for LaMarcus Aldridge to take James Wiseman to school
James Wiseman only got three college games under his belt before the NCAA stepped in and voided the rest of his season. Lucky for Wiseman, he’s about to witness a masterclass in post scoring from one the best to ever do it.
Don’t let the trade rumors drag your perception of him down, LaMarcus Aldridge has had a fine start to the season for the San Antonio Spurs. He hasn’t been the three-point shooter that we were hoping for and his defense has been an issue. But Aldridge has stepped up when the Spurs have needed him most.
After watching the Spurs get embarrassed on their home court by the Los Angeles Lakers, Aldridge put up 28 points on the defending champions to lead San Antonio to a victory in Staples Center.
He’s had similarly impressive performances against the Timberwolves and Trail Blazers, coming through in both games when San Antonio needed a scoring punch.
If the Spurs want to throw a change of pace into this game they could seek out more one on one matchups between Wiseman and Aldridge. LaMarcus doesn’t have the speed and leaping ability to stay with the younger Wiseman but he’s got a deep bag of tricks that the rookie hasn’t ever seen before. Give the big man the time and opportunities he needs and I’m sure he’ll take the rookie to school.
Next: Another "prove-it" game for Dejounte Murray
Jan 12, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) defends Oklahoma City Thunder guard Theo Maledon (11) as he directs his team on a play during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Dejounte Murray gets another great test from Stephen Curry
Dejounte Murray has one of the Spurs’ best players through 14 games and he’s shown no signs of stepping off the gas. Even against some of the best guards in the NBA, Murray has held his own. He had a tough matchup with Damian Lillard on Monday and will be tasked with slowing down Stephen Curry tonight.
Without Klay Thompson by his side, Curry is strapped for shooting help. Kelly Oubre hasn’t provided the perimeter shooting that the Warriors have needed and Andrew Wiggins has been hot and cold from behind the arc. He’s shooting 39 percent on the season but has had a few games where he’s been a non-contributor from deep.
Golden State’s lack of shooting help has given teams more room to focus on Curry. He’s been getting picked up as soon as he crosses halfcourt and has seen almost continuous double teams as opponents try to find a way to stop him from getting a shot off. For the most part, it hasn’t worked.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/12/29/0022000047/166/31a708f8-19fa-5402-3b46-99e82190f483_1280x720.mp4
What more do I have to say? It’s Steph doing Steph things. He’s playing at nearly as high of a level as he was during his MVP seasons and it’s almost more impressive this year given who he’s got next to him.
Murray’s been leading the Spurs’ offense but being the spearhead of the defense needs to be his focus tonight. Picking him up early to avoid open, deep three’s and having active hands to tip passes out of double teams will be points to watch in this matchup.
Next: A battle of the benches
Jan 5, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) passes the ball against Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum (33) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Patty Mills and the San Antonio Spurs bench can swing the game their way
Curry doesn’t take many breaks during regular-season games. His importance to the Warriors has him playing more minutes per night than he did during Golden State’s peak years. Steve Kerr will find time to get Curry his rest but he’s not using full paltoon swaps like we’ve seen other coaches do in the past.
The result has been some interesting lineups featuring a blend of starters and second unit guys that have been giving other teams trouble. This could be an issue for San Antonio.
Enter, Patty Mills and the best second unit in the NBA. The Spurs bench has been owning teams and blowing leads wide open all season long. They lead the NBA in total plus/minus and with players like Mills, Rudy Gay, Jakob Poeltl, and Devin Vassell, this is a group that can handle whatever their opponent throws at them.
The Warriors second unit aren’t slouches either. They rank 11th among the league’s bench units in total plus/minus and have intriguing guys such as Eric Paschall and Damion Lee who can get hot. But the player I’m most interested in watching is Brad Wanamaker.
After grinding overseas for most of his professional career, Wanamaker cut out a role for himself on the Celtics bench over the past two seasons. He parlayed that into a one-year deal with the Warriors this offseason.
Wanamaker isn’t particularly dangerous at any once facet of the game but his net impact on the Warriors is noticeable. Golden State is +5.2 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court and a pairing of Wanamaker and Curry has been destroying other teams.
Golden State has a net rating of +26.1 when Wanamaker and Curry share the court. Now, that doesn’t happen often, just 2.9 minutes per game right now, but it’s something the Warriors coaches have noticed and could look to more often.
If you had “shutting down Brad Wanamaker” on your Spurs Keys To Victory bingo sheet, congratulations. It might not seem like too important of a point but if the Spurs are successful in getting the ball out of Curry’s hands it’s likely going to end up in Wanmaker’s. Planning for that eventuality should help the Spurs come prepared for a win tonight.
It’s a West Coast game so pour yourself an extra cup of coffee this afternoon and stay up for all the fun. The Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs face off in the Bay at 9 pm CST tonight.