Let the rest of the basketball loving world ponder how long Golden State superstar Steph Curry will remain on the sidelines with a right knee sprain that threatens to derail the Warriors’ ride to back-to-back NBA championships.
The Spurs have plenty enough to contend with in their Western Conference Semifinals matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder that begins with a 7:30 p.m. Game 1 tip on Saturday night at The AT&T Center.
The injuries to Curry, as well as those suffered on Monday night by Clippers All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, are no more than afterthoughts.
“I just think about OKC,” said veteran guard Manu Ginobili, about to begin the 11th Western Conference Semifinals of his 14 seasons in silver and black. “They are a great team. They are tough enough for us. Then, if we do really well and we beat them we’ll see who we play against.
“It’s not a point that concerns us. It’s a concern on the other side of the bracket. OKC is healthy and playing very well.”
Curry and his fellow “splash brother” Klay Thompson combined to average 52.2 points per game this season.
Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 51.7 points per game. They combined for 69 points in the Thunder’s 118-104 Game 5 win that closed out their first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks.
Decide for yourself which is the more dangerous combination.
“Durant is an incredible threat,” Ginobili said. “Westbrook’s energy and the way he has to play and be contagious and aggressive on both sides of the court – sometimes he gets steals and coast-to-coasts, that really pumps up everybody on their team.
“It’s a two-headed snake.”
The Spurs are better equipped than any NBA team to deal with such a deadly duo because they have two standout defenders big enough to guard Durant and quick enough to contend with Westbrook.
Kawhi Leonard is simply the best perimeter defender in basketball, as his back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Awards attest. Danny Green is an under appreciated defensive stopper who will receive a few votes for this season’s All-Defensive teams, but probably not enough to earn more than honorable mention.
They have shared the defensive load against Durant this season and both also have taken defensive turns against Westbrook.
The starters for both teams where matched in only two of the four regular season games because one coach or the other sat all his starters in the other two. In those two games, Durant made only 19-of-44 shots (43.2%) and just 2-of-13 3-point shots (15%). Both figures are far below his season averages, 50.5% on all shots, 38.8% on 3-pointers.
“Whatever the challenge is, you just have to face it,” Leonard said after a Thursday morning practice session. “I’m just out there trying to do my defensive assignments and be in the help spots so we can try to win.”
Green’s defensive prowess gives Gregg Popovich the ability to give Durant different defensive looks on occasion. He is not often recognized as one of the league’s better perimeter defenders, but he understands he earned a role as a Spurs starter not by his 3-point shooting but through his work at the defensive end.
“It makes a big difference because you don’t have to give the opponent always the same look, even though Kawhi is the best at it,” Ginobili said. “Sometimes, when you have such a great opponent he also gets used to the weaknesses of the opponent. So it’s good to change it up once in a while. We are going to have to change it up as a team, too. Even with all that, we all are going to have to be attentive because they are both so talented that you are going to have to bring help every time.
“But, of course, having Kawhi as the main defensive guy and then Danny, who is a very solid defensive player, too, is a great advantage.”
Green has struggled with an inconsistent 3-point shot this season – his long ball percentage slipped this season to 33.2% from 41.8% in 2014-15 – but retains the trust of the coaching staff because of his defensive skill.
“They don’t really need me for offense,” Green said. “My role here is to try to be the best defense wing I can possibly be and try to stop guys on that end of the floor and help the bigs rebound.”
Green never has been recognized on one of the NBA’s first, second or third All-Defensive teams, but his teammates understand his worth.
“He’s always been a really good defender,” said Spurs captain Tim Duncan. “Pop’s always been on his tail about being a better defender and not being lazy and not falling asleep. He’s taken to that. He’s an underrated defender and he’s a guy we count on – weak side blocked shots, steals, and just contesting shots.
“He’s one of the best we have.”