Leading up to the 2014-15 NBA season, the landscape of NBA power changed. After watching two Heat vs. Spurs NBA Finals match-ups in a row, it was refreshing to see the Warriors and Cavaliers emerge as the premier challengers for champions of the Eastern and Western Conferences.
The Warriors-Cavaliers matchup has been seen plenty in the post-season after two years and 13 games of NBA Finals series competition. The Warriors-Spurs matchup is one that is unseen – at least in the post-season in the Steve Kerr era. This is not the fault of the Warriors, Western Conference finalists each of the last three seasons, but rather that of the Spurs, who were upset in the first round by the Clippers in 2015 and the second round by the Thunder in 2016.
The series would mean so much if it were any top two teams any given year, but this matchup represents a battle between something greater; this series represents the changing of the guard. Obviously I am not suggesting that the Spurs have done anything the past three seasons that Golden State hasn’t, but rather the last step for the Warriors to prove that their system is the alpha.
The ways Golden State and San Antonio find success could not differ more than they already do. Whereas the Warriors utilize a fast paced, back court driven, perimeter shooting montage, the Spurs slow the game down, execute through their hall of fame front court in the half court schemes. The masterminds behind these systems are the relatively new to head coaching Steve Kerr and the longest tenured coach in the NBA Gregg Popovich.
If the regular season is any indication, which sometimes it isn’t, the Spurs have done well against the Kerr era Warriors. In 2014-15, the Spurs won the regular series 2-1, and their two wins (107-92 and 113-100) were both by bigger margins than the lone Warriors win (110-99.) Injuries in these games don’t favor either of the teams by any considerable amount; Marco Bellineli missed one game for San Antonio, and Shaun Livingston missed one game for Golden State.
The following season went differently. Even though San Antonio won 12 more games that season with the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge and the vast improvement of Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs only went 1-3 against the record-breaking 73-9 Warriors. Tim Duncan did miss three of those games, and a few other Spurs role players missed time as well, but the Warriors outscored them by 9.8 points per game in the four games, and 15.9 points per game in Warrior victories.
This past regular season, however, shifted back towards the Spurs favor. San Antonio came out on the opening night of NBA basketball with an emphatic 29 point win over Golden State, and then a 22 point win in March with none of the stars playing for either team. The Warriors did, however, beat the Spurs by 12 in the end of March without Kevin Durant.
That means that in the Kerr-era, these teams have split their regular season matchups 5-5. While Golden State has been the more convincing team in the playoffs, San Antonio can never be slept on. The Spurs have beaten dynasties like the Shaquille O’Neal Lakers, the LeBron James Heat and Cavaliers, the 2000s Pistons and more in the playoffs despite lacking the perceived star power these 2017 Warriors have.
The Spurs have size and talent at every position – something the Cavaliers had that gave the Warriors problems last year. The Warriors, however are the first team the Spurs are not favored to beat this year, and they have had difficulty eliminating first Memphis then Houston.
Golden State has beaten the likes of Houston, Los Angeles (Clippers,) Oklahoma City, Memphis, Utah, and the Cavaliers in the East in 2015. There isn’t a team in the Kerr-era that has beat them more times than been beaten. Should be an exciting series to say the least.