The San Antonio Spurs executed a great game plan to beat the Houston Rockets in six games, but now they face their biggest challenge when it comes to defending the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs game plan against the Rockets was focused on neutralizing their high-powered pick-and-roll attack that opened the door to wide-open threes. The Warriors present a different challenge entirely, it’ll come down to whether the Spurs can put enough defenders on the floor that can go toe-to-toe with their top rated defense in the playoffs.

The Spurs managed to defeat the Rockets without their star player and best perimeter defender in Overtime of game five and all of game six. During his absence, a few Spurs stepped up to the plate to defend one of the top MVP candidates in James Harden. At the end of game five, Jonathan Simmons was able to draw an offensive foul on Harden at the end of regulation and forced two turnovers in overtime when he was able to poke the ball away on Harden drives.

Simmons was not the only Spur to have stepped it up defensively, with a three-point lead in overtime Patty Mills did a great job to stone wall the Rocket’s Eric Gordon who lost the ball and both guys dove on it to force a jump ball. On the ensuing play, Manu Ginobili switched onto Harden and was able to block his shot from behind in the closing seconds of overtime.

In game six the Spurs put up their best defensive outing in the playoffs, holding the explosive Rockets to 75 points. Their rotations in the play below are a great example of how they were able to scramble and multiple close-out efforts by Danny Green and Simmons to make sure the Rockets did not get an easy look.

Several of the Spurs and especially their wing players were able to tick their defense up another notch in this series. This is significant because the Warriors have the ability to put several offensive weapons on the court at one time in Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. While Leonard is expected to return for game one, the Spurs will need to be ready to chase, run through, and switch multiple times while defending the Warriors.

Mills can chase Curry through screens with rookie Dejounte Murray coming off the bench with the hope his long arms and athleticism can overcome his inexperience on him. From there it will easily become the battle of the wings with the Spurs bringing out a combination of Leonard, Green, Simmons, and Ginobili up against Durant, Thompson, Green, and Iguodala. The Spurs will have to be ready to go small against the Mega-Death lineup that the Warriors can pull out when they move Green to the center position and Durant to the power forward slot.

Gregg Popovich has been reluctant over the years to go small but the Warriors may force his hand, if Aldridge is not able to stay with Draymond Green, the Spurs do have a lineup that may be able to cause trouble for the Warriors lineup.

Possible Small Lineup Match Ups

Warriors Spurs
Steph Curry Patty Mills
Klay Thompson Jonathan Simmons/Danny Green/Manu Ginobili
Andre Iguodala Jonathan Simmons/Danny Green/Manu Ginobili
Kevin Durant Kawhi Leonard/Danny Green
Draymond Green LaMarcus Aldridge/Kawhi Leonard

The Spurs have just completed one defensive challenge but now face a new and more difficult one in the Warriors. The Spurs managed to use the Rockets philosophy of threes or layups against them. Unlike the Rockets, the Warriors prefer to run defenses off screens than being pick-and-roll focused and are constantly willing to take mid-range shots averaging 16.5 points over the last two series. The Rockets averaged 3 points off mid-range shots in their series against the Spurs. Below is the Rockets’ shot chart from second round compared to

The Spurs will have to adjust their defense yet again to face their second offensive juggernaut in the Western Conference. Unlike most teams, the Spurs do have a lineup that can potentially challenge the Mega-Death lineup the Warriors sports. The real question is whether Popovich will go to it.

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