The Golden State Warriors rattled off 24 straight wins to start the season, eventually falling to the Milwaukee Bucks on December 12th. Since that date, the Warriors have continued their winning ways, going 13-2, but despite all of that, they haven’t been the hottest team in the NBA. That honor goes to the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have gone 15-1 since the Warriors recorded their first loss, a run that probably hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Even scarier, is that Greg Popovich has San Antonio winning at a pace that seems more sustainable than what the Warriors are showing.
Rest & Health
Injuries are always the X factor, and while both teams have stayed relatively healthy this season, the individual impact of Curry, Thompson or Green missing games seems to have a much more dramatic effect than when the Spurs are missing Parker, Leonard, or Duncan. San Antonio hasn’t been shy about resting key players, which is crucial for them as their stars are much older than the Warriors core group of players. San Antonio has Duncan and Parker rest entire games, while Golden State had the benefit of resting nearly every fourth quarter at the start of the season. The difference? One is a planned rest day while the other is dependent on how the game is going.
Golden State has a mentality that they can outscore any team in the league – and nobody here is going to argue with that. The Warriors average 30 three point attempts per game (2nd behind the Houston Rockets) and shoot an other-worldly 42.5% from beyond the arc – San Antonio is 2nd in 3pt% at 38%. When your team can shoot that well AND get an extra point for it, there’s no reason not to. In stark contrast, the Spurs average only 19 attempts from behind the 3 point line, good for 26th in the league – but somehow they rank sixth in scoring at 104 points per game. Golden State is #1 in that category with 114 PPG. San Antonio has unbelievable ball movement, resulting in high percentage shots – in fact, the Spurs lead the league in FG%, making 49% of their shots. Golden State is second at 48.8%. While the approaches are wildly different, the end result is similar.
Steph Curry is responsible for nearly 25% of his team’s scoring, meaning when he misses a game, there is a lot of slack to make up. Kawhi Leonard is the leading scorer for the Spurs, but only makes up 18.5% of the Spurs scoring. If both teams were to lose their top scorer, San Antonio would be in a much better position to sustain their offense than Golden State.
The biggest difference between these teams is on the defensive side of the ball. While Golden State averages nearly 10 points per game higher than the Spurs, they also allow nearly 13 more points per game on defense. San Antonio has allowed the fewest points per game in the league this year, and by a wide margin. They accomplish this by allowing the fourth fewest shot attempts per game at 81. Golden State allows 90, good for second worst in the NBA. Even though they allow opponents to shoot at a similar percentage, the Spurs defense and rebounding slows you down to the tune of 9 fewer attempts per game. San Antonio also leads the league in fewest free-throws allowed, while Golden State falls into the bottom third of the league in this category. All of that adds up to the Warriors allowing their opponents more chances to score than any other team, hurting their chances at sustaining this historic run.
Golden State and San Antonio have yet to meet this year (first meeting scheduled for Jan 25th) but when they do, it will be one of the most anticipated regular season games in recent memory. These two teams will square off three more times in the final 30 days of the regular season, most likely with home court advantage on the line for the majority of those meetings – you just have to pray to the basketball gods that Popovich doesn’t choose to rest his players.