OAKLAND — It starts at high noon on Saturday at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors against the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs’ record was 47-35 during the regular season and the Warriors were 58-24. They’re the favorites. But they lost 10 of their final 17 games and played terrible defense during that stretch. Their 107.8 defensive rating ranked 17th in the NBA. And in their most recent game, they lost by 40 points to the Utah Jazz.
The Warriors need to locate an “on” switch and flip it.
“It comes down to how well you defend,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Thursday after practice. “This league is about defense, especially in the playoffs. Our defense has not been good over the last month. I’m very confident it will be much better in this series. If our defense is better, then we’ll be better and the dimmer will start to go up on that switch.”
Kevin Durant had his own thoughts about the switch: “I don’t think there’s anything called flipping a switch. Now that we know our matchup, it’s a little easier to prepare for a team when you know you’re going to play them for a week.
“In the regular season, it (changes) every single game. You don’t know who you’re playing, you have back to backs, you’re traveling. Flipping the switch (in the playoffs) comes from just the focus part of it. Physically, everybody is pretty cool. Mentally, it’s just knowing who you’re going to guard and how you’re going to try to score on him. You lock in on those things, because we have one team we’re playing against for the next four games at least.”
The Warriors and Spurs played each other four times during the regular season and the Warriors won three of those games. But only one game resembled the series that will start this Saturday.
During the Warriors’ and Spurs’ third meeting, Stephen Curry injured his right ankle less than three minutes into the game. The Warriors played the rest of the way without him, but still had their other All-Stars — Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. And the Warriors won 110-107 at home. A close game.
This series could be close, too.
The Warriors won’t have Curry — he will miss the series with a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee. And the Spurs probably won’t have their best player, Kawhi Leonard. He missed all but eight games this season and hasn’t played since Jan. 13. He’s still recovering from tendinopathy in his right quadriceps. The Spurs have not yet ruled him out for the series against the Warriors.
“I’m operating under the assumption that it don’t matter,” Draymond Green said Thursday after practice. “Whoever they put on the court, that’s the team we’re going to face.
“We’ve got the experience. We know what it takes. Experience usually plays a part in winning or losing at this time of the year. When it comes to winning at this time, we have more experience than just about any other team.”
The Spurs might be a close second. They have made the playoffs 21 seasons in a row — the longest streak in the NBA.