Game 4 Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs

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What has transpired in the Western Conference is, in no uncertain terms, unfortunate. The San Antonio Spurs were poised to give the Warriors their first competitive series of the playoffs before Kawhi Leonard went down with an ankle injury in Game 1. Since then, a potentially thrilling showdown between the conference’s two best franchises has been relegated to a mere afterthought.

Now a week removed from Leonard’s injury, the Spurs are just one game away from being swept out the playoffs. After falling to the Golden State Warriors by a score of 120-108 in Game 3, legendary head coach Gregg Popovich is nearly out of answers. Of course, to make matters worse, the Spurs started the series without Tony Parker, promptly lost Leonard and then forfeited David Lee to injury two minutes into his stint during Saturday’s game.

Losing three rotation players — much less the best two-way athlete in the league — against any playoff team would be a tough pill to swallow, but against the Warriors, it means certain death. On this particular night, it was JaVale McGee’s 16 first half points that anchored Golden State long enough to take control against the beaten down Spurs. Even with Draymond Green’s foul trouble and a staggering 21 team turnovers, the result was never in question for Golden State after the break.

Kevin Durant scored 19 of his 33 points in the third quarter and added 10 rebounds on 11-for-19 from the floor to lead the No. 1 seed one game closer to their third straight appearance in the NBA Finals. The Warriors hit 40.7 percent of their three-point attempts (11-for-27) and the starters finished with a strong plus-minus of 84 on the road, which all but spells doom for San Antonio.

As well-coached as the Spurs are, there’s just not enough firepower remaining to take down one of the league’s elite offenses, particularly so four times in a row. Manu Ginobili performed valiantly in defeat, turning back the clock once again for 21 points in 18 minutes off the bench, but that was as good as it got for the Spurs. As Popovich continues to tinker with his lineup in hopes of finding a desperation Hail Mary, Kyle Anderson got the start and tallied six points, nine rebounds, five assists and a block, but Patty Mills’ struggles (2-for-10) counteracted those positive signs of life.

If there’s a silver lining for the Spurs to take from this series, it may as well be Jonathon Simmons’ continued emergence. Ahead of his first-ever payday this summer, Simmons has performed fantastically both off the bench and as a starter for San Antonio. Simmons’ 14 points in Game 3 has bumped his series total to 48, mostly in the absence of the aforementioned Leonard.

For San Antonio to make Game 4 competitive, they’ll need more from LaMarcus Aldridge, who continues to take heat for his non-aggressive playstyle. Although Aldridge finished with 18 points on 7-for-17 shooting, he’s left a lot to be desired as the go-to player without Leonard on the court. Going toe-to-toe offensively with a team like Golden State is tricky, but when your first option struggles to break double digits at times, that’s not exactly a recipe for success.

While the Spurs will hope that Leonard can return for Monday’s do-or-die Game 4, the damage has already been done. As Ginobili succinctly put it to reporters during the postgame pressers: “For us to win [Game 4], we have to play at a 10, and [the Warriors] have to play at a 7.”

Well said, Manu.

Who Wins Game 4?

Until Leonard is officially announced as fit and ready, the Warriors will convincingly keep their edge in this series. The Spurs and their scrappy group of veterans still have a chance of winning a game at home, particularly so if Leonard can return. But if Leonard is hobbled or remains out, then not much will change in Game 4 and the Warriors will almost assuredly sweep their way to the NBA Finals.