Warriors face their biggest challenge yet against Spurs

Jay Asser 22:28 13/05/2017
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Stars are out: Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. Picture: Getty Images.

Finally, the gold standard of the NBA will clash with the league’s burgeoning dynasty in the playoffs to determine who rules the West.

The match-up between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs will not only feature the two best teams from this past regular season, but from last year as well, with the sides meeting for the first time in the playoffs during the Warriors’ three-year stretch of dominance.

Golden State barely broke a sweat in sweeping opponents through the first two rounds, while San Antonio have had a more challenging road, needing six games to overcome both Memphis and Houston.

As heavily favoured as the Warriors are, the Spurs have proven they’re capable of at least making the road more challenging for the team from the Bay.

San Antonio claimed two of the three regular season meetings, including an opening night blowout win. The other victory, however, came in a contest in which both sides rested their key players, while the loss saw Golden State overcome a 22-point deficit.

In the two games that included the regular starters, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich trotted out a more traditional line-up with two big men. While the Warriors are at their best when they go small and play Draymond Green at centre, San Antonio prefer to utilise their size and do damage in the paint and on the glass.

The Spurs grabbed 27 more rebounds in total across those two games, while holding a massive 48-22 edge in second-chance points.

“That’s how they won this last series (against Houston), by keeping balls alive,” said Golden State forward Kevin Durant said.

“They murdered us that in first game with rebounds, but that was the first game of the season.

“We’ve gotten so much better and more comfortable with each other since then, but we know offensive rebounding always translates no matter what.

“If we give up offensive rebounds and they take more shots than us, it’s going to be hard for us to win.”

Durant only played in the season opener against the Spurs, but dropped 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing four assists.

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He and MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard will go head-to-head, with the latter dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of the series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Rockets.

In the absence of Leonard and with point guard Tony Parker out to a leg injury, San Antonio have needed LaMarcus Aldridge to step up and the big man has delivered.

“He’s really turned it on, demanded the ball, got in good position using his body, and not always settling for a jumper,” Popovich said of Aldridge. “[He got] to the rim, did a really good job.”

Golden State’s jack-of-all-trades, Green, will pose a challenge for Aldridge on both ends and the match-up has the potential to dictate the series, which begins with Game 1 at Oracle Arena (UAE: 23:30).

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