May 25, 2012, 2:54 AM EDT
San Antonio 50-16 (1 seed)
Oklahoma City 47-19 (2 seed)
San Antonio took the season series 2-1, however Manu Ginobili missed all of them (which might worry Thunder fans), the games were in March and earlier, bottom line these teams are different now.
OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)
San Antonio: offense 108.5 (1st in NBA); defense 100.6 (11th)
Oklahoma City: offense 107.1 (2nd); defense 100 (9th)
THREE KEY SPURS:
Tony Parker: He outdueled Chris Paul, so as his reward he gets Russell Westbrook. In one key regular season meeting between these teams Gregg Popovich asked Parker to attack Westbrook on offense, to wear him down and make him work at both ends, he did taking 29 shots and scoring 42 points. It worked. Expect a lot of that this series. On the other end, Parker is going to have to defend the pick-and-roll as well as he did last series (although don’t be shocked if Popovich has Parker cover Thabo Sefolosha and puts Danny Green on Westbrook for long stretches).
Tim Duncan: He has been fantastic in these playoffs, but the “old man” is about to be put to the test with the long and athletic Serge Ibaka shadowing him. Duncan and Parker (and Manu Ginobili) will keep the ball moving until the Spurs get open shots, but they have to produce themselves as well. Duncan has to get points inside against a big front line of Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.
Kawhi Leonard: He is the guy who is assigned the impossible task of guarding Kevin Durant. Nobody is stopping as good a pure scorer as there is the game, but if he can make Durant really work for his points — keep him shooting contested long jumpers — and not be efficient, it will put pressure on the Thunder to keep up with all the points the Spurs offense will score.
THREE KEY THUNDER:
Russell Westbrook: To me, Westbrook is the key to this series. San Antonio did a great job containing Chris Paul by zoning him off when he came off the pick and moved to the wing, but that’s not how Westbrook attacks off the pick-and-roll — Westbrook prefers to come off near the top of the key and dive straight down the lane to the basket. It’s harder for the Spurs to defend and if Westbrook can get into the paint he can get the Thunder the points they will need to hang in this series and win it.
On the other end of the floor, he has to make Parker work for his shots, get the ball out of his hands and contain him on the pick-and-roll. Nothing is stopping the Spurs offense, but the Thunder need to find a way to slow it.
Kevin Durant: This is obvious, but in a series where the Thunder need to put up points they will need big, efficient nights from him. That means not all pull up jumpers, he needs to get to the rim as well. Last meeting between these teams he was 8-19 shooting, he needs to be better this time around.
James Harden: Harden is the Sixth man of the Year, but the Spurs are deeper and get fantastic bench production. Harden needs to find a way to match it or come close. Also, he’s going to be the ball handler at the end of close games – and there will be close games — and his ability to make plays for others will be key.
This will get painted as a “pass the torch” series with the rising Thunder trying to take the mantle as the next great team in the West. In reality, the Thunder are going to have to rip that torch out of the Spurs hands, San Antonio isn’t done with it.
These are the two best offenses in the association and this whole series really boils down to this — which team can get more consistent stops?
It’s going to be hard for the Thunder, despite their length and athleticism. In their regular season meetings the Spurs just carved the Thunder defense up — and San Antonio is playing better now. The Spurs offense uses pressure and fantastic ball movement to get the shots they want — at the rim, the corner three, or specific jumpers like Duncan’s 15-foot bank. The Spurs are 8-0 in these playoffs and having’t lost since you were doing taxes because they get their shots on their terms. San Antonio will wait for the eager and active Thunder defense to overreact to something then in two quick passes get a good look or a matchup they want. They did it in the regular season matchups between these teams.
Another key for San Antonio and its ball movement is good look jump shots — the Spurs will take a lot of spot-up jumpers but are getting a very good 1.18 points per possession off it so far in the playoffs (via MySynergySports). Those looks are often corner threes — Oklahoma City has to rotate fast and challenge those corner threes. The Thunder have to contest everything, something they have done well in the playoffs (top field goal percentage against on spot ups in the postseason).
Spurs biggest challenge will be defending the pick-and-roll — they have done it well in the playoffs but this will be a different look and speed. Chris Paul tried to attack them from the wing, but Westbrook will attack from the top of the key, trying to turn and run down the lane and get his own points. They have to stop him out high, make him shoot jumpers, because if he gets into the lane the Spurs lack the big-man shot blocker too stop him.
This series is fascinating because of the matchup chess that will go on. In the playoffs Popovich has liked to play Parker, Danny Green and Ginobili together — will Scott Brooks counter by going big and forcing Green to try and cover Durant? Will Parker get time defending Thabo Sefolosha so the more athletic Green can go on Westbrook? Will the Thunder ignore Serge Ibaka on the pick-and-pop, and can he make them pay for it?
This series is so close. But if it becomes a chess match, you have to like Popovich against Brooks.
Spurs in 7.
This could go either way and the only outcome that would surprise me is a team winning in less than six games. That said, in the end there will be too many Parker rainbow floaters over Ibaka’s arm, too many Matt Bonner corner threes, too many Boris Diaw or DeJuan Blair baseline cuts to catch a pocket pass and lay it in. Basically, too much Spurs offense. The Thunder will be close but when it comes to who can get enough stops to win, I like the Spurs. Barely, but the Spurs.
Jul 1, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Not a good idea
Jul 1, 2015, 7:53 PM EDT
The Brad Stevens Effect
Jul 1, 2015, 7:40 PM EDT
Cleveland continues to soar over luxury-tax lines
Jul 1, 2015, 7:34 PM EDT
Would Paul Pierce agree to this if DeAndre Jordan were leaving town?
Jul 1, 2015, 7:07 PM EDT
Millsap had been flirting with Orlando but chose a shorter deal in Atlanta.
Jul 1, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT
Will Wright back up or replace Marc Gasol?
Jul 1, 2015, 6:43 PM EDT
Will that be enough to get Aldridge back to Portland?
Jul 1, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT
He is using this to leverage the Cavaliers, but the door is open.
Jul 1, 2015, 6:07 PM EDT
This is a contract the Thunder can live with or move, depending.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT
Even if another team signs him to an offer sheet, the Warriors will just match it.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT
Aldridge and Kobe Bryant didn’t quite click in their meeting.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT
The Suns look like a team ready to run again.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:11 PM EDT
Boston gets nice value on a short-term frontcourt upgrade.
Jul 1, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT
The road to the NBA Finals out of the East — and maybe to the Larry O’Brien trophy itself — goes through Cleveland.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Love returns, just as he maintained all season long.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
Butler will remain in Chicago as expected.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:28 PM EDT
The Pelicans were +10 per 48 minutes with an offensive rating of 111.9 (points per 100 possessions) when Anthony Davis and Ajinca were paired last season.
Jul 1, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT
New York is getting an audience with all the big names.
Jul 1, 2015, 12:29 PM EDT
Nice get for Toronto, and a Hawks team that won 60 games is going to look very different next season.
Report: Spurs reach deal to trade Tiago Splitter to Hawks, create cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge offer
Jul 1, 2015, 12:03 PM EDT
The Spurs can now offer Aldridge the chance to return to his native Texas and walk right onto a serious title contender.
- Reports: Paul Pierce agrees to three-year, $10 million contract with Los Angeles Clippers 13
- Report: LaMarcus Aldridge rules out Lakers in free agent decision 94
- Reports: Phoenix Suns sign Tyson Chandler, re-sign Brandon Knight, try to reshape roster 10
- Kevin Love will return to Cavaliers, contract is reportedly $110 million over five years 77
- Report: Spurs reach deal to trade Tiago Splitter to Hawks, create cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge offer 27
- Report: Heat, Goran Dragic agree to five-year deal worth $90 million 46
- Report: Paul Millsap had midnight meeting with Orlando, will decide between Magic and Hawks 17
- Report: Blazers, Damian Lillard nearing agreement on five-year max contract extension worth $120 million 17