Who can stop the NBA Golden State juggernaut?
Robbie Purves | February 10, 2016
Warriors humble Spurs
After Golden State Warriors demolished San Antonio Spurs in Oakland at the end of January, an unavoidable question emerged. Are Warriors truly unstoppable in their quest for a second consecutive NBA Championship?
Millions around the world tuned into what was billed as a tight game between the most prolific offence against the league’s best defence. A close affair it was not, as viewers witnessed a beating of seismic proportions that led opposition coach Gregg Popovich to say it was like “boys against men”.
Spurs’ 120-90 defeat stretched Golden States’ record to 41-4 (now 47-4) and they are 5/4 favourites to win the NBA Championship for the second year in a row.
Golden State have a plethora of championship winning quality talent. Steph Curry is perhaps one of the NBA’s greatest-ever shooters and on track to become a top five all-time player.
Curry, the reigning MVP, averages around 30 points per game and is ruthlessly efficient from beyond the three-point ark. Fellow All-Star Klay Thompson averages 21.1 points per game, linking up with his ‘Splash Brother’ Curry perfectly.
Thompson is a player capable of hot streaks which can result in 40+ points a game, seen recently against the Mavericks when he scored 45. When Curry is not firing, Thompson steps up, making it almost impossible to halt the tirade of three-pointers which rain down upon any team that faces them.
Talented Thompson draws players in because he is such a deadly shooter – he just cannot be ignored. This leaves vital space in which Curry and Draymond Green can operate.
Consequently, Warriors can outscore anyone in the NBA, averaging a league high 115.5 points per game (PPG) and Curry looks on track to collect his second Championship ring with Golden State odds-on at 8/11 to win the Western Conference.
So, which teams can halt Warriors? Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs arguably have the best chance.
Rivals Cleveland need to increase intensity
After firing David Blatt, the Cavs haven’t looked particularly rejuvenated, with a double digit loss to the Bulls and a narrow win against Minnesota Timberwolves amongst the worst performances under new coach Tyronn Lue.
Despite this, the Cavaliers look certain to win the Eastern Conference at 4/11. But, for Cleveland to be legitimate championship contenders, a few things need to happen.
Coach Lue needs to get more out of Kevin Love, both defensively and offensively. Love must have more touches at elbow as, during his time in Minnesota, he developed into one of the league’s best in that position as both a scorer and passer.
However, his numbers have dropped and there have been discussions about whether he really fits into this team. Yet, more touches at the elbow can help Cleveland lift themselves out of the sometimes sluggish, isolation-heavy offence.
Against Phoenix in January, just after Blatt’s firing, Love registered 24 points, 11 rebounds and four assists – a performance that had become a rarity under Blatt. Also versus the Suns, Cleveland recorded 34 assists, which was a season high, with quick, unselfish ball movement something Lue is quick to emphasise.
This needs to continue for Cleveland to mount a real championship winning charge and is the style of play that led to Cavs blasting San Antonio in late January.
In addition, LeBron James still produces phenomenal numbers with 24.9PPG and 7.1 rebounds per game (RPG).
However, his Championship window is closing and he knows it, hence the hurried firing of Blatt, who had failed to gain the respect of veterans among the roster. With a new man in charge, Cleveland Cavaliers are now 11/4 to win the NBA Championship.
Spurs need energy and perimeter prowess
Despite San Antonio losing heavily to Warriors recently, Spurs are still seen as a real threat to Golden State’s dominance. The emergence of Kawhi Leonard over the last few seasons has been spectacular, as the 15th overall pick in the 2011 draft is now a legitimate superstar and averages around 20 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
Leonard was included in the NBA’s Defensive First Team in 2015 and is a vital component of San Antonio’s impressive defence. Under Gregg Popovich, Spurs play a slick passing, defensively resolute game; a style of play that has lead them to a 44-8 record this season.
However, San Antonio’s flaws were relentlessly taken advantage of by Warriors during the 120-90 game in January. Manu Ginobili said after the game: “At this point, they are better than us and I’m not embarrassed to admit it.”
Spurs looked lethargic and couldn’t keep up with the pace Golden State set. San Antonio are the league’s 23rd slowest team, but when they won the NBA Championship in 2014 they were 12th. Clearly, they need to find a medium between passing patiently to find the right shot and stretching teams with fast, efficient offence.
Tim Duncan’s absence was also significant when the two sides met, as he is the anchor San Antonio rely on, despite his age and declining numbers, with the defeat to Golden State the worst in Duncan’s era.
In addition, San Antonio (10/3 to collect their sixth NBA Championship) need to mix up their game and start hitting perimeter shots if they are to stand a chance when it comes to defeating Golden State in the Playoffs.