Skip to content

Playoff Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

May 25, 2012, 2:54 AM EST

duncan-parker Getty Images

SEASON RECORDS

San Antonio 50-16 (1 seed)
Oklahoma City 47-19 (2 seed)

SEASON SERIES
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.

OUTLOOK

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.

PREDICTION

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Wizards willing to give Bradley Beal max contract extension if necessary

    Nov 27, 2014, 8:00 AM EST

    Cleveland Cavaliers v Washington Wizards Cleveland Cavaliers v Washington Wizards

    Beal’s max extension projects to pay more than $118 million over five years

  2. PBT’s Wednesday NBA Winners/Losers: Ettore Messina making history for Spurs

    Nov 27, 2014, 1:37 AM EST

    Indiana Pacers v San Antonio Spurs Indiana Pacers v San Antonio Spurs

    LeBron James and the Cavaliers were good, Chase Budinger had the flub.

  3. Oklahoma City waives Sebastian Telfair

    Nov 27, 2014, 12:28 AM EST

    Utah Jazz v Oklahoma City Thunder Getty Images

    Ish Smith will stay on the roster.

  4. LeBron James, Cavaliers have kind of game they need to replicate blowing out Wizards

    Nov 27, 2014, 12:01 AM EST

    Dion Waiters, Kevin Seraphin, Rasual Butler Dion Waiters, Kevin Seraphin, Rasual Butler

    If the Cavs can defend like that on a regular basis they will be far more dangerous.

  5. Adam Silver on if league would do anything about Sixers: “Step in and do what?”

    Nov 26, 2014, 9:15 PM EST

    He also talks Milwaukee, doing away with conferences.

  6. Gregg Popovich to miss game following ‘minor medical procedure’

    Nov 26, 2014, 8:15 PM EST

    Gregg Popovich Gregg Popovich

    With Popovich out, Ettore Messina takes over Spurs

  7. James Harden throws pass through Amar’e Stoudemire’s legs (video)

    Nov 26, 2014, 7:00 PM EST

    New York Knicks v Houston Rockets Getty Images

    Harden shifts defensive-woes attention onto Knicks forward

  8. Kyrie Irving wants to take on bigger defensive role, challenge top point guards

    Nov 26, 2014, 4:59 PM EST

    John Wall, Kyrie Irving John Wall, Kyrie Irving

    You have to like that he wants to step up, but based on history, a lot of top point guards in the league just started drooling.

  9. Report: Knicks worried Carmelo Anthony’s back issue may be season-long concern

    Nov 26, 2014, 1:15 PM EST

    Carmelo Anthony Carmelo Anthony

    Anthony was in severe pain after suffering back spasms on Monday against the Rockets.

  10. Tyson Chandler faces Knicks, will remind them he’s very good when healthy, used properly

    Nov 26, 2014, 12:30 PM EST

    Tyson Chandler AP

    Chandler didn’t fit the triangle but Rick Carlisle knew how to use him properly.

  11. David West hopes to make season debut Friday for Pacers

    Nov 26, 2014, 11:45 AM EST

    Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers - Game Five Getty Images

    West has been out since the preseason with an ankle injury.

  12. Report: Lakers working on a one-year deal with Earl Clark

    Nov 26, 2014, 11:05 AM EST

    Earl Clark Getty Images

    Clark had his best NBA season with L.A. back in 2013.

Featured video

Could Sixers be worst team in NBA history?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Rose (8501)
  2. D. Wade (6941)
  3. D. Howard (6356)
  4. K. Durant (6162)
  5. P. Gasol (5816)
  1. K. Martin (5419)
  2. T. Jones (5180)
  3. T. Harris (5014)
  4. R. Westbrook (4960)
  5. O. Asik (4741)