POSTED: May 3, 2013 1:17 PM ET
Point guards Stephen Curry (left) and Tony Parker square off in this Western Conference semifinal series.
The obvious comparisons to 2007 are everywhere. But mostly because for Golden State Warriors fans born in the last quarter-century, it's the only postseason reference point available.
But the 2013 version is as different from that Don Nelson-coached, Baron Davis-led Warriors team as the uniforms they're now wearing. Six years ago, Golden State needed a late surge just to get to 42-40 and sneak into the postseason as the eighth seed. Then Nelson spooked his former pupil Avery Johnson, league MVP recipient Dirk Nowitzki and the rest of the Dallas Mavericks that Nelson had returned to prominence in the early 2000s.
Warriors vs. Spurs Series Preview
The Warriors' good fortune was short-lived, however. They lost four of five in the second round to the Utah Jazz and that was the last we've heard of the Warriors. Until now.
It still might not quite be their time, but this young, energetic group sure is fun to watch. For starters, point guard Stephen Curry is no Baron Davis. He might have ever-shaky ankles but he's a sweet-shooting star-in-the-making who has likely missed his last All-Star Game. Australian big man Andrew Bogut provides superior rim protection over Andris Biedrins, who, remarkably, is the lone holdover from that 2007 "We Believe" crew.
This team (which nabbed the sixth seed) also, theoretically, puts emphasis on defense. Second-year coach Mark Jackson would like to see fewer points allowed (100.3 a game during the regular season, ranking 19th), but it's better than the '07 team that finished dead last. And take a look at the Warriors' regular-season field-goal percentage defense. It was at 43.9 percent, fourth overall behind Indiana, Oklahoma City and Memphis. Golden State ranked seventh in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (34.7), which will be critical against its sharpshooting second-round opponent, the San Antonio Spurs.
Ah yes, the solid, steady second-seeded Spurs. For this series, Warriors fans might want to harken back not to 2007, but rather 1997. That's the last time that Golden State won a game at San Antonio, a streak of 29 consecutive road losses. How remarkable is that? Jackson, now 48, split that season with the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers and Curry had yet to turn 9 years old.
Inside The NBA: Warriors' Trouble in San Antoino
It's easily the longest active hex one team has held over another on its home floor. The last time Golden State won in south Texas, Latrell Sprewell and Joe Smith were its best players and Rick Adelman was the coach. The Spurs played at the cavernous Alamodome, still had those funky fiesta hues splashed on their otherwise timeless logo, David Robinson got hurt six games into the season, Dominique Wilkins was their leading scorer, a guy named Gregg Popovich replaced Bob Hill as coach and Tim Duncan was wrapping up a four-year run at Wake Forest on his way to becoming the No. 1 pick.
How some things never change. And others never stay the same.
While the Spurs, still led by the spry 37-year-old Duncan and the only coach he's ever played for -- now in their 16th consecutive postseason -- seek a second consecutive appearance in the Western Conference finals and a fifth title that would span three decades, the Warriors are playing to get out of the second round for the first time since 1976, a year after winning it all.
To accomplish such a feat, they will rely on a young squad with little postseason experience and arguably the shallowest bench left in the playoffs. With David Lee (torn right hip flexor) presumably out for the series (he attempted to play in Thursday's Game 6 but lasted less than two minutes), the Warriors' starting five has an average age of 25, or five years younger than the youngest of the Spurs' Big Three, Tony Parker. Two of Golden State's top seven rotation players are rookies in starter Harrison Barnes (Lee's replacement) and Draymond Green.
The Warriors will have to play almost flawlessly on the road and use their raucous home crowd at Oracle Arena, aptly dubbed "The Roaracle," to ambush the Spurs just as they did the Mavs in '07. Mental meltdowns such as the one that nearly cost them Game 6 against the Nuggets won't get the job done in this ramped-up series.
Not against the solid, steady Spurs.
1. Who is the more dangerous point guard Tony Parker or Steph Curry? If the question is "who is the best..." then the nod still has to go to the veteran All-Star Parker, who played at an MVP-level for much of the season when he wasn't battling a variety of injuries that have seemed to dissipate just in time for another Spurs playoff run. Parker had an awesome first round in the sweep of the Lakers, averaging 20.3 points and 7.6 assists a game, while shooting 52.2 percent. However, if asking "most dangerous," then no doubt Curry is the answer. He's shooting better than 60 percent in the third quarter during the playoffs and he's making transcendent performances the norm. If he gets on one of those hot streaks he can steal a road win on his own.
2. Can Warriors rookie forward Draymond Green continue to have a major impact? The Warriors must get it from him even if it's a bit much to ask because Jarrett Jack is the only credible scoring threat off the bench. Consider that Green made 14 3-pointers all season, yet came through with six (on 12 attempts) in the six-game series against Denver. He more than doubled his season scoring (2.9 ppg to 7.3 ppg) and rocketed from 32.9 percent field-goal shooting to 59.3 percent.
3. Can Golden State win at San Antonio? They're going to have to if they want to get to their first Western Conference finals in forever. They've lost 29 in a row there dating to Feb. 14, 1997. They'll get two shots starting with Game 1 on Monday and Game 2 on Wednesday. The Warriors' last two playoff series wins -- '07 vs. Dallas and this last one vs. Denver -- got started with an early road win.
4. Will Bois Diaw's return help the Spurs? Yes. Just listen to Tony Parker: "He's like another point guard out on the court, great passer, creates a lot of shots for everybody, so can't wait to have him back." Diaw's return will mean fewer minutes for Matt Bonner, who always remains ready and was a key player at both ends against Dwight Howard and the Lakers.
5. Can Andrew Bogut find success against Tim Duncan? Bogut was huge for the Warriors in Game 6 with a rare double-double (14 points, 14 rebounds) and four blocked shots. With Bogut, the question is always health. That's just something out of anybody's control. What is in his control is playing sturdy defense and rebounding while staying out of foul trouble. That will be tough against Duncan's array of post moves.
San Antonio is arguably the toughest team to defend outside Miami. Tony Parker is so efficient and diverse with the ball. He's a master at getting into the lane and for years now has punctuated his game with an accurate mid-range jumper and that sweet teardrop. Then defenses have to try to contain Manu Ginobili, whose athletic ability to get to the rim remains remarkable at age 35. Toss it into Duncan and let him work, or he can pass it out to multiple 3-point threats.
The Warriors are going to have to be disciplined defensively and not make a habit out of gambling. Bogut is going to have to do an excellent job of turning away penetration while the perimeters defenders will have to be wary to close out and prevent open 3-pointers.
Obviously it all starts with Curry, who had a fantastic first career playoff series, averaging 24.3 ppg, 9.3 apg while shooting 43.4 percent from beyond the arc and 46.8 percent overall. He needs to continue to get help from fearless rookie Harrison Barnes, who is growing up before our eyes, averaging 14.8 ppg in the playoffs, five points better than his season average. Both teams ranked in the top six in pace this season and the Warriors will want to make the Spurs use every ounce of energy running back on defense.
Is there any question where Golden State will go in crunch time? Hey, it's Curry's show. Who would you rather have shooting? San Antonio has options from Parker to Ginobili to Duncan. And Popovich has shown that he's not afraid to draw up a play for Danny Green or even Gary Neal when they've got to have a bucket.
Klay Thompson is in his second season and first postseason. Maybe the pressure is getting to him a bit. His scoring average has dipped a couple of points, but more concerning is the significant drop of his 3-point shooting from regular season to postseason (41.4 percent to 34.3 percent). Thompson averaged about two free throws a game during the regular season, but he took just three in the six games against Denver. Thompson has to heat up for the Warriors to reach full potential.
For the Spurs, second-year forward Kawhi Leonard has already been hyped by Popovich as the next face of the franchise. He does it all; defends, rebounds and he can score, even sink the 3-pointer. He can defend multiple players from Barnes to Thompson and if needed in crunch time he can put his 6-foot-7 frame and long arms on Curry.
The Warriors just aren't deep enough to handle the Spurs in a seven-game series. San Antonio's talented second unit should make the ultimate difference. All-in-all, San Antonio senses it has a great chance to win the West and it's not going to get tripped up by a team that's already exceeded expectations. Spurs in 6.
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