San Antonio Spurs vs Golden State Warriors: Lineups, preview & prediction 4/14/18
Golden State’s quest for a third title in four years starts with a familiar foe Saturday when the Warriors host the San Antonio Spurs at Oracle Arena.
The last playoff meeting between the teams was a contentious one in the Western Conference finals last year. The Spurs led by 23 points at Golden State in Game 1 when Kawhi Leonard was fouled by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia and also sprained his ankle on the play when he landed on Pachulia’s foot. Much was made about whether Pachulia gave Leonard the proper space to land on the play, with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich seething about the events post-game.
Leonard left that game with 7:55 left in the third quarter and never returned, and along with him went San Antonio’s playoff hopes. The Warriors stormed back to win that game and swept the Spurs en route to avenging their 2016 NBA Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers by defeating them in five games and finishing an impressive 16-1 in the postseason while winning their first 15 contests.
Fast forward nearly 11 months later, and the Spurs (47-35) are still without Leonard, who was limited to nine games this season because of a quadriceps tendon injury unrelated to that ankle sprain. His absence and frustration with his rehabilitation have caused enough consternation within the organization that many believe Leonard has played his last game with the Spurs.
San Antonio scraped into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, failing to win 50 games in a non-lockout season for the first time since going 20-62 in 1996/97, which led to them winning the draft lottery and making the franchise-altering selection of Tim Duncan.
Without Leonard, Popovich has leaned heavily on LaMarcus Aldridge, who led the Spurs in scoring (23.1), rebounding (8.5) and blocks (1.20). Aldridge practically dragged San Antonio into the postseason, averaging 29.2 points and 8.9 rebounds in a 13-game stretch in which he shot a blistering 57.7 percent.
Golden State (58-24) have not been without injury issues themselves as they finished a distant second to Houston in the Western Conference. All-Star guard Stephen Curry, who averaged a team-high 26.4 points, has been ruled out of this series with a sprained MCL in his left knee, one of the multiple injuries that limited the sharpshooter to 51 games.
Fellow starters Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green all missed multiple games at various points after the All-Star break, a contributing factor in the Warriors losing ten of their final 17 regular-season games despite unheralded Quinn Cook proving to be a quick study in directing the offense in Curry’s absence.
Another factor, though, was the grind and occasional boredom of the regular season, something coach Steve Kerr knew full well would happen considering the Warriors have now played a cumulative 390 games since the start of the 2014/15 season and won 80 percent of them, going 312-78 as they try to become just the fifth team in NBA history to reach four consecutive finals.