Sunday, May 12 has one game on the NBA playoff schedule. Luckily for fans, it just so happens to be the most exciting series of the postseason thus far.
The Golden State Warriors are set to host the San Antonio Spurs in a matchup that will either send them back to San Antonio tied at two games apiece or really put them behind the eight ball one game from elimination. The Spurs have a chance to steal all momentum, while the Warriors simply look to avoid a desperate situation.
Isolating one factor that will predict the winner of this game is difficult, but if the one constant in this series holds true for Game 4, then this contest should be full of entertainment.
The theme early in this series was an apparent power shift out west. Golden State was hot, the Spurs had no answer for Stephen Curry and people could see a changing of the guard every time they tuned in.
That said, as the teams have continued to clash, it’s become apparent that the Spurs won't go away quietly.
Games 1 and 2 belonged to Curry and Klay Thompson, respectively. In the first contest, a double-overtime thriller, Curry caught fire in the third quarter—again—making the case that he’s been the most productive superstar of the postseason. The Spurs ultimately won the game, but not without people questioning whether they’d be able to handle Curry moving forward.
The second game saw Thompson explode for 34 points and 14 rebounds en route to a nine-point Golden State win that evened the series. San Antonio’s ability to slow down the dynamic backcourt of Golden State was once again brought into question, but it was the brilliance and resilience of a deep veteran squad in Game 3 that seemingly shifted momentum back in San Antonio's favor.
Tim Duncan posted a 23-point, 10-rebound showing, and the Spurs also got a stirring 32-point outing from the only 2013 All-Star guard on the court, Tony Parker. The win gave the Spurs a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4.
The biggest story was the poor shooting from Curry. San Antonio began swarming the guard with the length of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. If the two forwards continue to crowd Curry—and Thompson—throughout the remainder of the series, it could spell trouble for the once dazzling duo in Golden State.
Game 4 Preview
Unfortunately for the Warriors—and fans of good, healthy basketball—the key storyline surrounding Game 4 will be all about Curry’s ankle. His ankle issues have been a problem for a while now, and while we can’t expect the role of injuries to vanish in big games, it’s unfortunate that we’re focused on Curry's injury status rather than his production.
But while health is a concern, the Warriors must first figure out a way to get Curry to play more efficiently than he did in his most recent outing. A rolled ankle late in the contest isn’t the reason he shot 29 percent on the night, so getting him open looks and not forgetting about his secondary role as a distributor role will be necessary for him to find success.
If Leonard and Green continue to crowd Curry and Thompson, this game once again becomes the Spurs' to lose. However, a big X-factor has to be the production of Jarrett Jack. The guard has played extremely well this season, and his ability to take the pressure off Golden State's primary playmakers will force San Antonio to reach deeper into its rotation to find stoppers on defense.
As badly as Golden State needs to get its three-point game going, blindly launching from deep range won't cut it if San Antonio's defense does its job. Establishing an inside-outside presence might be the safest way to make that happen.
With the Spurs continuing to adjust to the perimeter attack, Andrew Bogut needs to stay out of foul trouble and become a consistent option early to pull the defense away from the three-point line.
San Antonio has proven that it can make the correct adjustments, so now it’s Golden State’s turn to follow suit and make the next move.
Game 4 Prediction
Game 4 is not a must-win game for the Warriors by the true definition of the cliché. However, things get much more difficult with a loss on Sunday.
The big question here is whether the Warriors can steal back momentum as quickly as they earned it. There are few teams in the league that are more fun to watch than a Warriors squad having caught fire, but their inexperience and streaky shooting aren’t recipes for success against Gregg Popovich and the experience of his crew.
The health of Curry combined with the recent defensive efforts of the Spurs pushes this series back San Antonio’s way. Can Curry take over a game without warning? You bet he can. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll likely see it again. The question is, will we see it again in Game 4?
This is the contest that will either keep the Warriors in it or leave them scrounging in an uphill battle. Don’t be surprised if this is another close game, but don’t be shocked either if the Spurs strike again, taking a 3-1 lead as they head home for Game 5.
Prediction: Spurs 104, Warriors 97