The short-handed Spurs still have some cards to play in their best-of-seven series with the Warriors. They just have hope the Warriors don’t have a royal flush; whatever they have now is damn close.
Through something like five or so quarters, the Warriors have been molly whopping the Spurs. And dirty plays or not, they need to find a way to temper the Golden State Warrior’s preternatural play.
Let’s explore the absurd mission of stopping Golden State.
In the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), there’s a saying that goes something like: Don’t stand with a striker. It means, don’t try and out-punch/strike a guy who’s already really good at boxing/striking. You’ll lose. It makes sense most of the time; you can’t beat the master with his own technique.
If the Spurs are living by that maxim, they won’t go small, with a shooter at power-forward; they can’t out-”small ball” the Warriors. So, it seems the Spurs have to stay big, play to their advantages and use two bigs. Except — full stop — one of those bigs can’t be Pau Gasol. Gasol has been an asset this postseason, but getting switched onto Stephen Curry — or worse, not switching out onto Curry at all — is making him look closer to another word reminiscent of “asset.”
That’s Game 1 Curry canning a 3. That’s also Gasol standing in the paint, thinking he’s guarding Tony Allen. It’s hard to manage a pick-and-roll, or when he's just coming off screens, when Curry is involved; he needs to have someone in his airspace at all times. So — unless the Spurs have a Curry-stopper to get around Zaza Pachulia screens (they don’t) — when Curry comes off a pick, the screener’s man need to be on him. Pau either can’t or won’t do that. It’s not entirely clear because Gasol continued to sag off his man and into the paint on the pick-and-roll for the lion’s share of Game 1.
So, if Gasol is out, who’s left to help contain on pick-and-rolls? Aldridge, whom the Spurs need for scoring (or something), David Lee (played less than five minutes in Game 2), who has been alright, and then there’s Dewayne Dedmon. Dedmon is the Spurs’ only real alternative option, and he played more minutes than Gasol in Game 2.
More pressingly, Dedmon has decent lateral movement for a guy his size. He’s the one big the Spurs have that could hedge or help contain a Curry pick-and-roll without compromising the entire defense. And after playing 20 minutes in Game 2, it seems coach Gregg Popovich sees that. Also, inside 6 feet, Dedmon was the only Spurs big that lowered his opponent’s field goal percentage in Game 2, per NBA.com/Stats. (Gasol and Aldridge have allowed opponents a higher field goal percentage when defending them.)
Having Dedmon matched up with Draymond Green — so Dedmon, an 80th percentile pick-and-roll ball handler defender, can guard those actions — while Aldridge protects the rim, is ostensibly the only way the Spurs can continue to play two bigs.
Even if that shores up San Antonio’s leaky defense, that still leaves their turnover-happy offense. This postseason, the Spurs have surrendered the most points off turnovers: 231 (and 61, or 26-percent, of those points have come from the first two games of their best-of-seven series with Golden State), per NBA.com/Stats.
The first step in patching up the Spurs’ offense would be to address the Monstars that stole Aldridge’s offensive game. Not to mention his inability to operate out of the post. Aldridge is turning over the ball on 21.1-percent of his post touches, and the Warriors can smell blood. Golden State is blitzing every Aldridge post-up/touch, and he’s coughing up the ball; he hasn’t been able to make them pay for the double teams; he’s not a true playmaker.
While the Spurs need Aldridge’s offense, they can’t afford for him to hold the ball and risk turnovers and offensive sedentary. They need to find another way to get him the ball, without just running the offense through him in the high post. The pick-and-roll would be the obvious answer — an action that the Spurs run less than you think. Have Aldridge set screens and roll to the rim or float to the elbow; that way, he can get the ball back in an advantageous situation — without Green terrorizing him — since the Warriors are known for switching on the pick-and-roll.
The other option would be to take a move out of the Warriors’ 2015 playbook: Using Lee as a short-rolling playmaker. The Warriors have attacked the Spurs’ pick-and-roll, doubling the ball-handler, forcing him into giving up the rock or into possible turnovers. That’s where Lee could come in. If a double-teamed Spurs ball-handler could slip the ball to his big/screener, that would mean that big would be playing four-on-three. And the only play-making big they have, Lee, just so happens to be good in these exact situations:
Letting Lee act as a pressure release value could bolster the Spurs’ offense and take some pressure off of their ball-handlers and Aldridge. Now, if the Warriors adjust to that, the Spurs may be out of luck, assuming Leonard (“questionable” for Game 3) is out of commission.
Regardless, the Spurs still have some cards to play. They just have hope the Warriors don’t have a royal flush; whatever they have now is damn close.