3’s could be key in Spurs-Warriors Western Conference Finals’ opener

OAKLAND, Calif. — Two teams that excel offensively and defensively from beyond the 3-point line go strength against strength when the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors meet in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.

The second-seeded Spurs beat the top-seeded Warriors in two of three meetings this season, with the winner in all three being the team that had better success on 3-pointers.

San Antonio limited Golden State to 12-of-50 shooting on 3-pointers (24.0 percent) in the first two games, both of which were won by the Spurs.

But when the Warriors rebounded to hit 13 of 26 (50.0 percent) in the third showdown in March in San Antonio, they finally got their first win of the season against the Spurs and all but clinched the best record in the league.

The Warriors went 67-15 in the regular season while leading the NBA in defensive 3-point field goal percentage (32.4). The Spurs finished as the fifth-best team in that department (34.4 percent).

But when it came to efficiency in shooting 3-pointers, no one was better than the Spurs (39.1 percent). The Warriors were No. 3 (38.3).

The Spurs burned the Warriors for 12 of 24 (50.0 percent) and 12 of 27 (44.4) on 3-pointers in their two wins.

One of those wins was a 129-100 stunner on opening night at Golden State in which Kawhi Leonard poured in 35 points.

Leonard missed Game 6 of San Antonio’s second-round win over Houston with an injured left ankle, but he has been cleared to play in Sunday’s opener. He participated in a full practice Saturday.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has never lost to the Warriors in a playoff series, was asked if a strong defensive effort against Houston, which specialized in 3-point shots, provided confidence against Golden State.

He insisted: No.

“It’s a totally different animal,” the former Warriors assistant coach said. “Every team is different.”

Much as every Spurs-Warriors game this season has been different. A series that began with a 29-point Spurs win at Golden State and ended with a 12-point Warriors victory in San Antonio also featured a 22-point Spurs home victory in a game in which Golden State sat out its top four players — Kevin Durant (who was injured), Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

The Warriors, the two-time defending Western Conference champs, would like to believe the most recent meeting, even though they were still without Durant, is the most telling.

“We’ve got to be able to win the possession game against them,” said Curry, repeating a theme the Warriors considered critical to their sweep of Utah in the second round. “When we’ve played well against them, we’ve either been even or had more field goal attempts than they did, and we were able to get the tempo up. Team rebounding is going to be huge.”

Despite the fact that Steve Kerr was able to attend practice during the club’s five-day layoff after Golden State’s elimination of Utah, the Warriors will be coached once again Sunday by assistant Mike Brown.

“He just has a presence about him, he has a confidence,” Popovich said of Brown, a former Spurs assistant coach. “He has a great mind, he understands the game, he knows what it takes to win, he’s strong enough to make demands fairly and follow through, and he’s great with people. So what more could you ask?”

Reference: ESPN

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