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.
Apr 24, 2014, 2:48 AM EDT
LA has 89 points and 26 rebounds in two games.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:40 AM EDT
Trail Blazers take 2-0 series lead with second win in Houston
Apr 23, 2014, 11:54 PM EDT
The Spurs turned the ball over on 26.2 percent of their possessions. It’s very unSpurs like.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:28 PM EDT
This should have gotten McRoberts ejected.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Bobcats keep battling, but Heat have too much talent.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:23 PM EDT
He has Durant, LeBron and Griffin on his MIP list… but it makes a good MVP ballot.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:15 PM EDT
Big-time blocked shot by Henderson.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The documentary will be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend.
Apr 23, 2014, 6:41 PM EDT
Utah needs a coach good at player development, Synder could be a fit.
Apr 23, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT
CSNWashington.com’s Wizards insider talks about the best story line in the playoffs so far.
Apr 23, 2014, 4:58 PM EDT
It’s a real possibility, but only if Anthony believes a plan to win is in place.
Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle on Spurs’ Gregg Popovich: ‘Why don’t we just give him Coach of the Century?’
Apr 23, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
He’s not wrong.
Apr 23, 2014, 3:22 PM EDT
McHale jokes with a reporter by making a painfully obvious observation.
Apr 23, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT
Harper worked as Pistons assistant for two years
Apr 23, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT
That will end the rumors, right?
Apr 23, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT
Timberwolves president coached Minnesota, Detroit and Washington before taking current job
Apr 23, 2014, 12:39 PM EDT
It would be a mistake, but the Pacers’ slide has everyone on edge in Indy.
Apr 23, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT
Lance Stephenson was second, Anthony Davis third, but they were well back of Dragic.
Apr 23, 2014, 11:59 AM EDT
7-foot-1, athletic with 3-point range — what’s not to like? A decent amount
Apr 23, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
Frank Vogel resisted the urge to do anything dramatic and trusted his team to make little changes. It worked.
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