Our next match features two powerhouse franchises who have won the past two NBA championships. They’ve taken different approaches in earning their nine combined rings: Golden State has had intermittent periods of success spread out over 70 years of franchise history, while San Antonio has had one sustained run of dominance, where they secured five championships over 16 seasons. Who has the advantage in the highly anticipated matchup between the All-Time San Antonio Spurs vs. All-Time Golden State Warriors?
Golden State’s firepower vs. San Antonio’s defensive might: Golden State is one of the most explosive teams in our tournament, with ALL FIVE STARTERS having led the league in scoring at some point in their Warriors career, along with a sixth scoring champion off the bench from the league’s earliest days (Joe Fulks). They feature perhaps the greatest shooter in NBA history (Stephen Curry), along with arguably the greatest inside scorer ever (Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged 41.5 PPG in his six seasons with the franchise). They have a wealth of shooting depth beyond Curry (Paul Arizin, Rick Barry, Chris Mullin), and a Hall-of-Fame offensive (Neil Johnston) and defensive (Nate Thurmond) big man to support Chamberlain. They also have perimeter playmakers (Curry, Barry, Tim Hardaway, Guy Rodgers) who will facilitate ball movement and offensive flow. No team can contain this group, but San Antonio is better equipped than most to withstand a potential offensive onslaught. Tim Duncan and David Robinson are two of the greatest defensive big men in NBA history; in their six seasons together, the Spurs ranked first (2 times), second (3 times), and third (one time) in defensive rating. Kawhi Leonard has developed into the best defender in the current NBA, and will see time on all of Golden State’s perimeter options. Alvin Robertson was the greatest thief in modern NBA history, standing as the all-time leader in steals per game and steals percentage, which will cause problems for Curry and his sometimes loose ball protection. Even though the Spurs have two former scoring champions on their team (Robinson and George Gervin), they must slow the games down to have a chance to win this series.
Battle of the Big Men: Duncan and Robinson were perhaps the greatest ‘Twin Towers’ duo in NBA history, capturing two titles together and dominating opponents defensively. While those two are used to playing with one another, Chamberlain and Johnston will have to adjust to each other’s tendencies. Chamberlain will also have to adjust to playing with a team with so much perimeter firepower; his later days with the 76ers and the Lakers proved he could take a back seat, but the Warriors version of Wilt was a one-man wrecking crew who was the most dominant offensive force in league history. He won’t get the ball on as many possessions as he’s used to, and will have to help set up his teammates for easier baskets.
Golden State’s three-point shooting advantage: The Warriors have the ability to blow opponents away from long range. Curry, Arizin, Barry, Hardaway, Jeff Mullins, and Chris Mullin have the ability to spread the floor like the modern-day Warriors team. San Antonio will be forced to play Chamberlain straight up without double-teaming, to avoid leaving these shooters open, though they are better equipped to deal with him than most teams. The Spurs have Manu Ginobili and Leonard as their best outside threats, but their other perimeter stars were more comfortable with penetrating and breaking down opposing defenses (especially Tony Parker and James Silas).
San Antonio’s coaching: Gregg Popovich has ascended to the top of the all-time coaching ranks. He has continually remade San Antonio’s offense over a nineteen year period, and kept them in contention throughout. Al Attles experienced great success with Golden State, but Popovich has a proven ability to maximize talent and get the most out of his players.
Pace: Though San Antonio can play different styles, they don’t want to run-and-gun with the Warriors. While Golden State will start two big men, expect them to utilize a few lineups where Chamberlain is surrounded by four perimeter players. Barry and Tom Gola can both initiate the offense from the forward position, and they have a slew of guards and wings to space the floor. Will San Antonio stick with their Twin Towers lineup when Golden State goes small? Who would Duncan or Robinson guard in this scenario? How would Golden State guard San Antonio in this setup? Speaking of which…
Golden State’s defense: While the Warriors are known for their offensive exploits, their defense will play a key factor in this series. Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond, and Gola are their best defenders, and they’ll be tasked with slowing down San Antonio’s explosive frontcourt. San Antonio’s perimeter players will face less resistance, however, as Golden State’s guards weren’t known for their work on the defensive end of the floor.
This series lives up to the hype. The teams go back and forth as both coaches make adjustments to their rotations. Kawhi Leonard and Nate Thurmond are both inserted into the starting lineups for defensive purposes as the series progresses. The seventh and final game goes into overtime, as these two teams prove to be dead even. Although the Spurs have one of the best defensive units in the tournament, the Warriors have too many weapons to contain. Golden State advances.
Golden State wins, four games to three.
Golden State faces the All-Time Celtics.