The opening game of the Western Conference Finals takes place Saturday between the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. There will no doubt be X-factors in this series, as there has been every round of the playoffs so far.
Here are six to keep an eye on. These players could have a significant impact on the outcome of what should be a hard-fought series.
Murray saw extended playing time in San Antonio’s blowout victory over the Houston Rockets on Thursday and turned heads with his athletic play at the point. The first-round pick out of Washington finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block across 24 minutes. After that performance, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich might be inclined to give the rookie more playing time in this next series against the Warriors. Not to mention that Murray (6’5″) is a better matchup against Golden State’s backup point guard Shaun Livingston (6’7″).
Simmons got the start for Kawhi Leonard in Game 6 and didn’t disappoint, finishing with 18 points, four assists, a steal and the best plus-minus (+32) of any starter on the floor. After playing limited minutes in the first round against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs unleashed Simmons in the second round against Houston. He played at least 20 minutes in all but one game and averaged 13.2 points across six playoff games.
In this next series against the Warriors, Simmons should continue to get some heavy use. He played well on both ends of the floor the last series and is starting to come into his own.
Ginobili came up big in Game 5 after not doing much of anything in the postseason. It was his 12 points and game-saving block on James Harden at the buzzer that helped the Spurs preserve a close victory on their home court Tuesday. San Antonio will need performances like that out of Ginobili in this next series against Golden State, only more of them. He can’t show up one game, but disappear for the rest.
The Spurs will need to pay close attention to McGee. He runs the floor well for a big man and always seems to be in the right place at the right time for easy points at the rim. The Warriors’ playmakers do a good job of finding him and getting him involved on offense. He has scored in double figures in three playoff games so far while still performing his usual rebounding and shot-blocking duties. It will be interesting to see him go against San Antonio’s veteran big men in this next series.
Iguodala’s skill set is the epitome of a X-factor. He can guard multiple positions, score, rebound and set up his teammates on offense. So far this postseason, he has done just that by averaging 7.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists off the bench for Golden State. This next series pits two of the best benches in the NBA against each other, and it’s players like Iguodala who make all the difference in a series.
Like Ginobili, Livingston hasn’t played like his usual self so far this postseason. Last year in the playoffs, he averaged 8.2 points off the bench. This year, he’s averaged just 3.8 points. But against a Spurs team that is thin at the point guard position after the loss of Tony Parker, Livingston should be more effective in this next series.