Old School vs. New School.
The second-seeded Spurs will enter the series as the favorites, while the sixth-ranked Warriors will look to dole out another upset, following their six-game takedown of the Denver Nuggets.
Though the teams' experience levels fall on opposite ends of the spectrum, their rosters bear remarkable similarities.
Both are led by an explosive point guard with a talented power forward controlling the paint. Both sides feature athletic wings, and their second-units are led by a capable guard.
However, amidst the similarities, the differences in age and experience between the two squads is apparent. Stephen Curry, the Warriors' leading man, is just 25 years in age, while San Antonio's Tony Parker is five years Curry's senior.
David Lee, Golden State's force inside, has been around for quite some time, however he is making his first ever postseason appearance, this year. The same cannot be said for Tim Duncan, the Spurs' leading big man.
The Spurs, as a unit, have been here before, and if they play smart, and follow this blueprint, their postseason run will extend another series.
Embrace Golden State's Small-Ball Lineup
David Lee was initially ruled out for the entirety of the playoffs, though his return came earlier than expected. However, Lee has indicated that despite his appearance in Game 6, he still is not ready for the upcoming series.
Against Denver, Golden State utilized their small-ball lineup often, in wake of their starting power forward's absence. The lineup featured Curry, Jarrett Jack, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut.
If the Warriors try to use a similar trick in the second round, the Spurs should welcome it with open arms.
Sure, one could argue that it strengthens Golden State's perimeter attack, but it also allows the Spurs to implement better defensive matchups. Parker, though not defensively inept, is by no means a lockdown defender. The Spurs' starting wings, however, are.
While Stephen Curry is undoubtedly San Antonio's primary defensive concern, placing either Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green on him—when Golden State is playing without Jack in the lineup—would create poor matchups elsewhere.
Placing either Leonard or Green on Curry would force the 6'1'' Parker to guard Klay Thompson—who is six inches taller than the San Antonio point guard.
However, when Golden State uses Jarrett Jack alongside Curry, Parker can comfortably stay with Jack, allowing Green or Leonard to defend Curry.
The set would also allow Manu Ginobili to enter alongside Parker, Green and Leonard, making the Spurs a nightmare from beyond the arc.
While small ball is a smart idea in certain situations, San Antonio would simply beat Golden State at their own game.
Take Advantage of a Limited David Lee
If the Spurs exploit the small-ball lineup, the Warriors would be placed in an unfavorable situation. Assuming Tiago Splitter can return from injury by Game 2, the Spurs would have the upper hand in the post.
Splitter's emergence gave Tim Duncan the frontcourt partner that he lacked for so long. With another legitimate big man, opposing squads are forced to focus on more than one post player.
When Andrew Bogut and David Lee were both healthy, the Warriors found themselves with a significant advantage in the post. However, Lee's injury will put Golden State at a disadvantage in the area that they dominated earlier in the season.
Tim Duncan has been brilliant throughout the 2012-13 season, and he has shown little indication that a decrease in production should be expected.
He alone would give San Antonio the upper hand in most post matchups, but Splitter's emergence has ensured that unless the opposition features a similar two-headed inside attack, the Spurs have a serious advantage.
Without a healthy Lee, Golden State no longer has that two-headed attack that would've countered San Antonio's, which the Spurs should exploit throughout the series.
The Spurs should win the rebounding battle consistently, while also hurting Andrew Bogut and Co. offensively.
Guard the Perimeter...Very Closely
This Western Conference semifinals matchup could very well turn into a three-point shootout, and while the Spurs have the assets to compete from beyond the arc, the Warriors are properly equipped to do so as well.
Stephen Curry broke an NBA record this season, and has emerged as the top shooter in the league today. If the Spurs can contain his perimeter attempts, the rest should fall into place.
Kawhi Leonard has become the team's perimeter leader, while Danny Green—despite gaining recognition for his shooting ability—was initially lauded for his defensive aptitude.
The two of them will be of primary importance for San Antonio, and if they can contain Curry and Co. from deep, a significant chunk of Golden State's offense will be eliminated.
Until April, San Antonio ranked fifth in made three-pointers allowed. With the stakes higher than ever, the Spurs will need to stop Curry from exploding, while limiting the Warriors' other three-point shooters as well.
Trust Their Stars...and Gregg Popovich
Overall, the primary advantage that the Spurs have over their West Coast counterparts is experience. The Spurs haven't missed out on a postseason appearance since Tim Duncan's arrival, whereas Curry and many of his teammates are in the midst of their first playoff experience.
Parker is no stranger to the big show, and now—in his best season to date—he'll be depended upon greatly. Whether it be to score or distribute, Parker's play will greatly impact the rest of the team—and being a veteran, the big stage should hardly fluster the point guard.
Tim Duncan also remains one of the most experienced players in the NBA, and the team will look towards him to anchor the defense while also providing the team with a leader in the offensive post.
More than Parker and Duncan, however, Gregg Popovich's ability to make in-game adjustments will be monumental to the how the team will perform throughout the series. As the best coach in the league, players and fans alike should trust his judgement—his choices normally help the team in the long run.
Mark Jackson's Coach of the Year-worthy season should not be overlooked, but playoff series often become a coach's duel, and the Spurs undoubtedly have the upper hand in this round.
Overall, the Spurs have the talent to finish out on top, and with Gregg Popovich leading the way, a return to the Western Conference finals should come as a result.
All stats were taken from NBA.com.
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