Spurs-Warriors Deep Dive: How Much Will Curry’s Absence Matter?

Spurs-Warriors Deep Dive: How Much Will Curry’s Absence Matter? article feature image

Before the season began, it was entirely possible that we would see a Western Conference Finals repeat between the Warriors and the Spurs. We’re getting the rematch, just in the first round. And without Steph Curry. And Kawhi Leonard. BORING!

Does Coach Pop have any tricks up his sleeve or will this be a cakewalk for the Warriors? Let’s see what the experts think. — Mark Gallant


Series: Warriors -1100, Spurs +700

Game 1 (Saturday at 3:05 p.m. ET): Warriors -8, Over/Under of 209.5

What’s Happening on the Court

By Matt Moore

I’m not going to lie: Curry did a whole lot of the damage to the Spurs in the Warriors’ three regular-season wins. The predominant play set that Golden State used to slice up San Antonio’s fearsome defense was shooting out of the pick-and-roll. Guess who did a lot of that? The second-most used set? Transition. And guess who got the ball out in the open most often?

And guess who had the highest on-court net rating (+122.0) among the Warriors versus San Antonio?

Surprise! It was Nick Young!

(No, it wasn’t. Nick Young is awful. It was Curry.)

So yes, Curry’s absence is going to be a problem for Golden State.

And the impact of Curry wasn’t just in the obvious box-score stuff. Watch this possession where Curry runs a curl twice. The second time, Kyle Anderson and Patty Mills are so worried about Curry, they leave the screen-setter Draymond Green completely alone when they miscommunicate on the switch:


The biggest change for Golden State without Curry will be how the Spurs are forced to defend the pick-and-roll. Watch how LaMarcus Aldridge reacts to Curry in the pick-and-roll here:


Anderson gets blown by completely there on a screen by Zaza Pachulia and a cut from Durant (which is a common theme when you look at how the Warriors generated 66 points off 47 cuts vs. San Antonio this season), but the reason there’s no help is because Aldridge is so high up worried about Curry.

Here’s a comparison of how the Spurs guarded Curry in pick-and-roll vs. replacement Quinn Cook.



And again:

Now, in the second example there, Cook knocked down that 3. If Cook punishes the Spurs for that, that could open up some things for the Warriors. But then San Antonio likely adjusts and starts either switching or guarding at the level of the screen. Can Cook make the necessary plays throughout the series? The Spurs are at a huge disadvantage here, but the Curry injury could very well mean this thing is much closer.

One more sneaky problem is foot speed. Watch how much of a lead Aldridge has here, and the distance Green puts between himself and Kyle “Slo-Mo” Anderson:


The Spurs have to hit shots to have a chance in this series: San Antonio was 28th in catch-and-shoot defense. Aldridge has to average 28 points per night, most likely: He averaged 26 per game vs. Golden State this year, three points above his season average. They have to get back in transition: The Spurs’ terrific defense gave up the 11th-most fast break points per 100 possessions league-wide, although most of their transition defensive data via Cleaning the Glass and Synergy Sports is great.

There’s a lot that isn’t going San Antonio’s way, but if the Spurs get some shots to fall to keep Golden State in front of them, Curry’s absence might open an unexpected portal.

Advanced Metrics Breakdown

By Bryan Mears

On the surface, it’s unclear how the Spurs are going to generate efficient offense against the Warriors: San Antonio ranks 26th in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) on the season, and Golden State is fourth in eFG% allowed. Sure, Aldridge in the mid-range is the rare efficient player in that area, but the math game becomes a problem: The Dubs rank second and first, respectively, in the league in field goal percentage at the rim and behind the arc. The Spurs can hang around by living in the mid-range for a game or maybe two, but it’s hard to envision that lasting a whole series if the Warriors offense is at least passable in this first round without Curry.

Of course, that’s assuming the Dubs “flip the switch,” as everyone thinks they will. And there are positive signs that suggest they’ll do so: Since the New Year, they rank just 13th in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.4 points per 100 possessions. And their main players just haven’t seemed to care. The Dubs have posted defensive efficiency marks of 109.7, 106.6, and 106.5, respectively, with Durant, Klay Thompson and Green on the court since Jan. 1. Those guys can all be elite defenders, which they were in last year’s playoffs. If this defensive slump — which Steve Kerr has publicly shamed them for recently — is real, the Spurs have a shot. If it’s just laziness because they were waiting for April, this one will be a wrap sooner rather than later.

One more quick argument that suggests the Dubs can flip the switch. Here is their net rating by quarter this season:

  • 1st quarter: +2.0
  • 2nd quarter: +8.0
  • 3rd quarter: +18.5
  • 4th quarter: +3.2

That says to me that they start off slowly during regular-season games, Kerr yells at them at halftime, and then they put teams away in the third. The “flip the switch” narrative is hard to tease out and predict, but I’m convinced enough by the data that I’m banking on it during these playoffs.

Locky’s Betting Analysis

By Ken Barkley

It’s tough to find value in a series price as prohibitive as -1400 on Golden State. (Editor’s note: It has since moved to -1100.) I think they win, and I think there’s nothing anyone can do to stop that (except maybe Kawhi). Even the faintest, slightest uncertainty about Leonard’s return probably makes the Spurs live enough to pass here because the odds are so imbalanced already. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Man, the Warriors win this like 90 to 95% of the time,” then you should pass, too, because that’s what -1400 implies (93.34%, to be exact).

On a single-game level, here’s something I find a little interesting: The Spurs were particularly bad on the road in 2017-18 compared to seasons past. When you dig more deeply, it gets even worse: Against this year’s playoff field, they are an abominable 3-18 SU on the road and 8-13 ATS. When they play talented teams on the road, it doesn’t go well. Even without Curry, a more motivated Golden State team than the one we saw the past several months can absolutely cover single-digit spreads against this team in the first two games of the series (Warriors opened -8 for Game 1).

The Warriors won the three meaningful games of the season series, losing the fourth when most of their team was out. The one of the three meaningful games that was close featured Curry being injured in the first quarter and the Warriors having to adjust without him on the fly. With preparation time for this series, there’s no reason to expect results that close. Given the Spurs’ home/road splits, the likelihood they get at least one game in their building is high — maybe high enough that if you can find a 4-1 Warriors series outcome price you like, take it.

Notable Matchups and DFS Spin

By Chris Raybon

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

How will the Spurs stop Durant if Kawhi’s not out there? Enter Kyle Anderson, who finished 17th among 514 qualifiers this season in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus metric. Anderson defended KD for 105 possessions — 80 more than anyone else on the Spurs — and limited him to 4.1 fewer points per 100 possessions than his season average. Anderson also held KD’s field-goal attempts per possession below his season average by 9.8%. But, per FantasyLabs’ NBA On/Off tool, KD’s usage rate climbs from 26.7% with Steph on the floor to 34.5% with him off the floor. When KD has been able to get his shot off on Anderson, he’s hit it at a 62.5% clip; it might be over for San Antonio’s defense regardless. In three games against Popovich’s troops this season, KD has averaged 48.17 FanDuel points and 48.08 DraftKings points per game. KD missed the other game due to injury.

Whether Anderson can contain KD or not, Durant’s mere presence increases Anderson’s DFS value. Anderson played 26.7 minutes per game overall this season but more than 30 in two of his three games against KD. Anderson will open the series at just $5,300 on FanDuel and $4,600 on DraftKings, and he averages 0.91 FanDuel points and 0.84 DraftKings points per minute on the season. He could offer value all series if he’s out there 30-plus minutes a game. In fact, Anderson averaged 12.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game against the Warriors this season — well above his overall season average of 7.9, 5.4 and 2.7. Anderson’s per-game averages of 36.7 FanDuel points and 35.0 DraftKings points against the Dubs is second on the team behind only Aldridge’s marks. — Chris Raybon

Betting Trends to Know

By John Ewing and Evan Abrams

As favorites in the postseason, the Spurs are 70-50-4 (58%) ATS since 2005, but as underdogs they are 27-34 (44%) ATS. The Spurs have been underdogs in the first game of the playoffs only twice in our database (2010 vs. the Mavericks and 2015 vs. the Clippers): They lost and failed to cover each game.

Since the 2012 playoffs, the Spurs are 12-5 ATS in the first game of a series, covering the spread by 5 PPG. There isn’t a real precedent for San Antonio as a 7-seed in the playoffs recently, but under Popovich the Spurs are 4-8 SU but 8-4 ATS on the road in Game 1 of a playoff series.


Barkley: Warriors in 5
Moore: Warriors in 5
Raybon: Warriors in 6
Mears: Warriors in 6

Pictured above: LaMarcus Aldridge and Zaza Pachulia

Photo credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports