Finally, the game has arrived. The 38-6 Spurs travel to the Bay Area to take on the 40-4 Warriors on Monday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Half the season has elapsed, and yet this is the first time the league's two best teams will match up.
The Spurs and Warriors have dominated the rest of the NBA in historic fashion this season. San Antonio is outscoring opponents by 15.3 points per 100 possessions and has the NBA's best defensive rating in over a decade. Golden State is outscoring opponents by 13.7 points per 100 possession, powered by an unstoppable offense and crunch-time lineup that runs circles around the league.
These two superpowers have not played each other in nearly 10 months. They missed each other in last year's playoffs when the Spurs lost in the first round to the Clippers, which was no doubt a relief to Golden State. Two of the Warriors' 15 regular season losses last season came to the Spurs. Golden State looks even more formidable this year, but then again, so does San Antonio.
This makes Monday night's matchup the best regular season game in NBA history. Here's why.
There are never two teams playing this well at the same time
The Warriors enter Monday night's tilt with a 90.9 winning percentage this season. The Spurs have merely won 86.4 percent of their games. We've never seen two teams this dominant in a regular-season game.
SA-GS have highest combined winning percentage (.886) in NBA history for opponents who have played at least 40 games each, via @EliasSports.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) January 25, 2016
In fact, the Warriors and Spurs have two of the six best records in league history through 44 games.
The hype over this game is justified pic.twitter.com/NktUkAc0OB— sam esfandiari (@samesfandiari) January 24, 2016
The only regular-season game between two teams this good was between the 39-3 Lakers and 35-8 Bucks in 1972. On that night, Milwaukee, behind 39 points from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and 17 from Oscar Robertson, ended the Lakers' record 33-game winning streak.
Aaron Barzilai, a statistician that has worked for several NBA teams, compiled a list of regular-season matchups that might compare to Spurs-Warriors. Monday's game is still far ahead of the pack.
Steph vs. Kawhi
Kawhi Leonard vs. Stephen Curry is the matchup we all want to see. There's no point in devoting any more words to Curry's offensive brilliance. He's the game's best shooter, scorer and ball handler, and seems like an MVP shoo-in.
But if Curry is the likely MVP, Leonard is the clear No. 2 in the race. He's the NBA's best defender, but is also second in the league in three-point shooting and has morphed into one of the game's top offensive players. Leonard might be the only person in the world with the size, athleticism, skill set, limbs and smarts to actually bother Curry in a one-on-one matchup.
It's unlikely Gregg Popovich, who views the regular season as one giant warmup for the playoffs, slots Leonard onto Curry for extended periods of time, especially because the absence of Tim Duncan due to a knee injury also takes away the Spurs' top interior defender. That said, any glimpse of Leonard on Curry will be basketball porn, and seeing Leonard attack the Warriors' array of top defensive wings on the other end should be interesting, too.
Curry has played at this level for a couple years, but this is the first time Leonard is joining the MVP conversation. These two stars will be spending the next half decade battling for supremacy out West. Last time they met, Leonard and the Spurs routed the Warriors. Chances are Monday night's game will be much closer.
The Spurs trying to stop the Warriors' Lineup of Death
Chris Paul's magic in the first round of last year's playoffs prevented us from seeing if San Antonio could put together an answer for Golden State's cheat code small lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. Hopefully that doesn't happen again this year. While Popovich won't give away any major secrets on Monday, this game could still provide a glimpse of how he plans on dealing with that Warriors death lineup, which is outscoring opponents by 56.6 points per 100 possessions this season, per NBA.com.
Nobody has been able to stop that unit, but nobody else has the brilliant mind of Popovich on the sidelines or a player like Leonard on the court. Leonard in particular could end up being the Spurs' answer to Green, who has become the Warriors' co-MVP because of his ability to mesh big man and guard skills. Green can space the floor and create on offense while guarding every position on defense, which empowers the Warriors' small unit.
Leonard, however, could be the answer to slowing him down. He hasn't played a lot of power forward during his Spurs career, but that doesn't mean he can't. He could lock up Green on the outside and guard him down low, and he can put pressure on him on the other end of the floor. Boris Diaw, assuming he puts down the espressos for a minute, is another mobile big man that could have a bigger role against the Warriors. The Spurs will also need LaMarcus Aldridge's versatility, particularly if he's the center alongside Leonard up front.
... And many more reasons
- It's possible -- again, POSSIBLE -- there are seven Hall of Famers on the floor for this game: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Leonard, Aldridge, Curry, Green and Thompson. (If Duncan were playing, he'd make it eight).
- It will feature one of the best offenses of this generation (the Warriors) against one of the best defenses of this generation (the Spurs). Contrasting styles make for good fights.
- The game might set a record for passes thrown. The Spurs rank No. 3 in the league in passes made per game, while the Warriors are No. 5, per NBA.com. All that ball movement should make the game a visual delight.
How to Watch
When: 10:30 p.m., ET
Where: Oracle Arena
TV: NBA TV
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SB Nation presents: East Coasters' solution to watching late Warriors games