9:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Warriors -12.5, Over/Under: 216.5
On the precipice of the NBA Finals, one team stands ready for their long-awaited chance at sweet retribution, while the other will very likely be cursing the Basketballs Gods for their misfortune, as the San Antonio Spurs host the Golden State Warriors in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals. For the Warriors (67-15, 1st in Western Conference), they now find themselves one game away from advancing to a third consecutive NBA Finals, reeling off eleven straight Postseason wins, equaling a league record. Despite the relative ease in which Golden State has dispatched their opponents (they’re average margin for victory has been a staggering 15.1 points), this hasn’t been necessarily the easiest path through the Playoffs. First and foremost, Head Coach Steve Kerr has been sidelined since the early stages of their First Round Series with Portland due to the lingering effects of a Back Injury. As a result, Assistant Coach (and former Spurs Assistant) Mike Brown has taken the reins in Kerr’s stead. Granted, competing without their skipper isn’t a foreign concept for these guys, who began last season on a 39-4 tear while Kerr recuperated from Back Surgery. They’ve also weathered their share of bumps and bruises over the past month; Kevin’s Durant (25.1 PTS, 53.7% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 8.3 REB, 4.8 AST, 1.1 STL, 1.6 BLK) missed Half of the Series versus the Trail Blazers, while both Andre Iguodala (7.6 PTS, 52.8% FG, 36.2% 3FG, 4.0 REB, 3.4 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.5 BLK) and Zara Pachulia (6.1 PTS, 53.4% FG, 5.9 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK) have been hampered with injuries in this set with the Spurs. And while Kerr has witnessed his charges wipe the floor with their competition on a number of occasions thus far, it’s not like they haven’t experienced their share of close calls. In Game Three at Portland, they trailed by sixteen points in the Third Quarter before rallying back to earn a decisive 119-113 victory. Then there was Game One of the Conference Finals in which they found themselves trailing by twenty-five at home to San Antonio, only to put together a remarkable 28-3 run immediately after Spurs’ Forward Kawhi Leonard sprained his ankle (which we’ll get into later). While we know this isn’t the most convincing of arguments, it speaks to how potent this group is, even when their short-handed. Their 120-108 victory at AT&T Center Saturday Night was a testament to their killer instinct, as they withstood every blow that the desperate Spurs could muster, before outscoring them 71-55 throughout the second and third stanzas. Durant led the way with thirty-three points on an efficient 11-of-19 shooting (57.9%), including 3-of-5 from downtown (60.0%), ten rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block, while Steph Curry (25.3 PTS, 46.3% FG, 41.1% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 6.6 AST, 1.8 STL) dropped another twenty-one points on 8-of-15 shooting (53.3%), including 3-of-7 from three (42.9%), five rebounds, three assists, and six steals. What ultimately put the visiting side over the top though, was their dead-eye shooting from the perimeter, were they knocked down 11-of-27 attempts (40.7%), outscoring their counterparts by eighteen points in that regard.
Meanwhile, somebody upstairs must really have it in for the Spurs (61-21, 2nd in Western Conference). One of the only teams in the league that you would figure are capable of giving the Warriors a truly competitive series have been reduced to a shell of themselves courtesy of a string of debilitating injuries. First it was Tony Parker (10.1 PTS, 46.6% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 4.5 AST, 0.5 STL), who was lost for the remainder of the Postseason after rupturing a tendon in his Left Quadriceps early on in the previous Series against the Rockets. Then it was MVP Finalist Kawhi Leonard (25.5 PTS, 48.5% FG, 38.1% 3FG, 5.8 REB, 3.5 AST, 1.8 STL, 0.7 BLK), who sprained his Left Ankle for the second time in a week, landing on the aforementioned Pachulia’s foot early in the Third Quarter of Game One, sidelining him ever since. Now, it’s David Lee (7.3 PTS, 59.0% FG, 5.6 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.5 BLK) occupying a place on the Trainer’s Table, as the veteran Power Forward continues to deal with a partially torn Patella, which has plagued him for weeks now. Needless to say, for a team that has prided themselves on their quality depth over the years, San Antonio has become frighteningly thin. And that is essentially why they’ve found themselves on the brink of elimination. Seriously, does anyone really think that they stand a chance against the two-time Western Conference Champions running a lineup consisting of the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Jonathan Simmons, Patty Mills, Danny Green, and Kyle Anderson? For all of Gregg Popovich’s considerable coaching acumen, his charges are simply outmanned, and one look at his body language on the Bench tells you that he knows it. Take this in consideration, folks; Pop’s Starting Five accounted for just fifty-four points, which matched the amount scored by Durant and Curry alone. With their fate resigned to inevitability, the only way that this team is going to prolong matters is if they get a vintage performance by one of their remaining number. Sure, Manu Ginobili’s twenty-one points on 7-of-9 shooting in a little over seventeen minutes of play was a sight to see, but how about the aforementioned Aldridge, who now in his second campaign in San Antonio has far too often played the role of expensive sidepiece, than All-Star Power Forward. One would think that the 31-year old would be able to take advantage of the smaller Warriors, but in reality has struggled when granted opportunities around the rim. In Saturday’s defeat, he shot just 7-of-17 from the field (41.2%), while netting 42.3% throughout the first three games of this set. Golden State has done a tremendous job of clogging the Lane and the Elbow, where he prefers to operate, but in the end, it’s simply a matter of playing to your ability if not your price tag. Remember, it was just two summers ago that the Spurs $84.1 million for his services, making it safe to say that he is NOT meeting expectations. With Leonard expected to miss tonight’s game as well, the only way that this team is going to manage to save some face is if big No. 12 raises his game.