Is Golden State making the NBA Finals just a formality?

After coming from behind to win Game 1, Golden State annihilated the Kawhi-less Spurs with a 136-100 victory. With Kawhi still questionable for Game 3 in San Antonio, Golden State's place in the NBA Finals might already be a foregone conclusion.

The San Antonio Spurs had plenty of cause for hope entering the Western Conference Finals. They blew the Warriors out on Opening Night in Oracle Arena in the only game during the regular season where neither team rested most of their starters. They clearly carried that confidence into Game 1 and opened up a 25-point lead in the second quarter. They held a 78-55 advantage when Kawhi Leonard left the game after re-aggravating his injured ankle multiple times during the third quarter.

While San Antonio's strong play with Leonard on the floor might indicate that they can beat the Warriors while at full health, we might not see that in this series. Kawhi's status for Game 3 is still in question:

Even if Kawhi did return for Game 3, he will clearly not be completely healthy by Saturday night. Furthermore, it is still difficult to separate just how much of Golden State's Game 1 comeback was due to Kawhi's absence as opposed to Stephen Curry heating up in the second half.

Part of me knows that the Spurs and Gregg Popovich can never be counted out of a series. However, all of the evidence from the first two games of this series point to an inevitable Warriors victory. Normal circumstances would dictate that the Spurs are a threat right until the final buzzer of their final game. However, this Warriors team represents anything but normal circumstances.

First Half Woes

There is a common theme to every close playoff game that the Warriors have played so far this season. Game 3 against the Trail Blazers (which included their largest deficit in that round), Game 3 against the Jazz (ditto) and Game 1 against the Spurs are all linked by the same thread. In all of these games, Golden State trailed at halftime but pulled out a victory by dominating the final 24 minutes. The Warriors trailed Portland 67-54 at halftime in Game 3 but scored 65 points in the last two quarters and won 119-113. They trailed Utah 50-49 after two periods of Game 3 in that series, but cruised to an 11-point win behind a strong second half. In these playoffs, the Warriors average 57.8 points per game in the first half and allow 51.8 per game, even after both of those numbers were aided by their crushing 72-44 margin in the first half of Game 2. While those numbers are still dominant, they pale in comparison to the Warriors' margins in the second half. They average 59.3 points per game after halftime and allow just 48.3. A six point average scoring margin in a half is remarkable. An 11 point margin is unheard of.

While the Kawhi Leonard injury clearly altered the course of Game 1, that injury was not the only thing that changed after the halftime break. Stephen Curry scored 11 points in the third quarter before Leonard left the court. His hot shooting, in turn, opened up the floor for his teammates. San Antonio had to scramble to keep Curry locked down any time he crossed half court, and the Warriors offense roared back to life. After only 42 points and eight assists in the first two quarters, Golden State put up 71 points along with 14 assists after the break. The 18-0 Warriors run after Kawhi exited the game points to just how important Kawhi Leonard is to the Spurs on both ends of the floor, but it also obscures the fact that the Warriors were executing better on offense in the third quarter even before Leonard went to the locker room.

There are times when it seems like the Warriors are almost disinterested during the first half. They showed in Game 1 exactly what they had shown during their weakest moments in the opening rounds--they can be taken to task early in the game if they don't lock in early. It is a bad sign for Spurs fans that the Warriors dominated the first half in Game 2. It is even more troubling that the Warriors can get away with substandard play in the first two quarters by annihilating teams after returning from the locker room.

San Antonio's Creation Story

The greatest irony of Kawhi Leonard's playoffs so far is that the Spurs do not miss his defense anywhere near as much as they miss his offense. The Spurs didn't exactly lock the Warriors down in Game 1 after Leonard went to the locker room, but their offensive woes were a much bigger factor in that loss. San Antonio scored just 33 points in the final 20 minutes of Game 1 with Kawhi out, and they put up just 16 points in a Game 2 that was basically over halfway through the second quarter.

Kawhi may be the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, but he has made massive strides on the offensive end this season. Leonard finished ninth in the league in scoring during the regular season and was in the Top 20 in True Shooting Percentage.

However, his most impressive offensive development has been in his ability to run the pick and roll. Leonard's much-improved handle and already elite athleticism allow him to turn the corner and score with even the tiniest sliver of space: