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Western Conference Finals preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs

May 19, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs

SEASON RECORDS

San Antonio Spurs 62-20 (No. 1 seed in West)

Oklahoma City Thunder 59-23 (No. 2 seed in West)

KEY INJURIES

San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker has a strained hamstring but will play in Game 1 Monday. If he is hampered and can’t penetrate off the pick-and-roll, can’t push the pace in transition, it will be an issue.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Serge Ibaka is out for the playoffs with a strained calf muscle (suffered in Game 6 vs. Clippers). This is a huge blow for the Thunder, who lose their third best player and an athletic shot blocker on defense. In these playoffs Ibaka has averaged 12.2 points on 61.6 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game — his catch-and-shoot baseline jumper is a key part of what the Thunder do.

If I were a Thunder fan this is the stat that would scare me the most: In four games this season San Antonio’s offense averaged 93 points per 100 possessions when Ibaka was on the court, and 120.8 (shooting 51.4 percent) when he was on the bench. That is 27.8 per 100 better when he was out, and he is out for all seven games.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS IN PLAYOFFS (points per 100 possession)

San Antonio Spurs: Offense 111.1 (second in playoffs); Defense 101.2 (third in playoffs)

Oklahoma City Thunder: Offense 107.9 (seventh in playoffs); Defense 102.8 (fifth in playoffs)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) How do the Thunder replace Serge Ibaka? The short answer is they can’t. Not easily. In four meetings with San Antonio this season the Thunder did not use any five-man lineup that didn’t feature Ibaka for more than 10 minutes. Over the course of the first couple games of this series expect Scott Brooks to throw a lot of different looks against the wall to see what sticks.

Here are two to watch for. First, Kevin Durant at the four spot. This would be the “going small” lineup and it could create some matchup issues for the Spurs. That lineup can work if the Thunder hit their threes and can play up tempo, but it also creates some defensive challenges. Second, when Ibaka went down in Game 6 vs. Clippers Brooks turned to a front line of Nick Collison and Steven Adams to great success. That lineup also keeps Kendrick Perkins off the court, which is a good thing for the Thunder.

2) Can Tony Parker get into the paint and finish at the basket? It’s not a shock to find out Tony Parker had success driving the lane against Oklahoma City, he does that against everybody. According to the Sports VU camera data this season Parker didn’t get in the lane as much when Westbrook was his primary defender, but when it was Reggie Jackson or the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka switched on him on a pick-and-roll Parker drove in at will (he will be more aggressive against Perkins/Adams/Collison, all of whom are slower of foot than Ibaka).

But when he got to the rim on those drives Parker only finished 13-of-24 (54.2 percent) — that is what Ibaka’s length and shot blocking bring. As a team the Spurs shot only 50 percent in the restricted area in four meetings between these teams this season, the length and athleticism of the Thunder disturbed those shots. Will that happen with Ibaka out? If Parker, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs as a whole get into the paint and finish a higher percentage at the rim things will look very good for them this series.

3) Can the Spurs hit their corner threes, open midrange looks? Why have the Thunder taken 10-of-12 from the Spurs the last few years? Athleticism on defense. Gregg Popovich’s mantra is “good for great” and the Spurs are better than any team in the league at making the extra pass to get the open look. The Thunder’s length and athleticism on defense (Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant, Westbrook) negates that — OKC can recover and contest that shot anyway. In four regular season meetings this year the Spurs shot just 9-of-28 (32.1 percent) on the corner threes they love and just 39.7 percent from the midrange. Will that change with Ibaka out? As with #2 above on drives, if the Spurs are hitting their corner threes it tilts everything toward the Spurs. Watch for Danny Green, if he gets hot from deep it’s huge for San Antonio.

PREDICTION

The Thunder swept the regular season meetings and have won 10-of-12 between these two teams — their athleticism has given them a real match advantage in this series. It will again, but that is diminished some without Ibaka. Oklahoma City is going to miss Ibaka as a third scoring option. The Thunder need to run more this series and get some buckets in transition. Kevin Durant has to have a monster series despite Kawhi Leonard being on him (Durant shot 43 percent with Leonard on him in the regular season), Westbrook has shot just 32 percent with Parker guarding him during the regular season. OKC’s stars are going to have to be phenomenal for them to have a chance. They can do that a couple of times, but not enough to win the series.

Spurs in six.

  1. thekingdave - May 19, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    Thunder in 7, Heat in 7.

    • tomasekradek - May 19, 2014 at 9:31 AM

      Close series for sure. But I expect the exact opposite. Spurs in 7 and Pacers in 7

  2. phillysports1 - May 19, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    Thunder in 6. Pacers in 6.

    • spthegr8 - May 19, 2014 at 12:13 PM

      @Philly
      I would have agreed with you about the Thunder in 6 if Ibaka was playing. Not only is Serge the third option on offense for them but, he is the anchor of their D. He clean’s up everybody’s messes and makes you think twice about attacking the basket against them. I just think the Spurs are to good and too deep. They also have Pop and you know he will be ready as will be the players. Spurs in 6.

      • spthegr8 - May 19, 2014 at 12:16 PM

        ^^^ The Pacers aren’t beating the Heat, ain’t happening. I got the Heat in 6. They win game 2 for sure!! IJS!!! ^^^

  3. aboogy123456 - May 19, 2014 at 9:32 AM

    When the Thunder beat the Spurs a couple years ago, the whole series changed in game 3 when they put sefolosha on parker, and then the Thunder won four straight. Will Brooks give Sefolosha big minutes? Or will he insist on playing fisher for 25 minutes a game. That decision will be a key factor in this series IMO.

    • spursareold - May 19, 2014 at 10:09 AM

      Brooks will play Fisher 25 minutes and Perk 25 minutes.

  4. reesesteel23 - May 19, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    Thunder in 7. Who’s guarding Russ with a hobble T Parker?

    • ddpenny - May 19, 2014 at 1:53 PM

      I don know about you. But if im the spurs id rather let westbrook hold the ball 48 mins of the game.

  5. the1nonlyk - May 19, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    agree with spurs in six although everyone seems to disagree. cant wait till i say told u so. heat v spurs rematch inevitable. go spurs go! driveforfive#

  6. the1nonlyk - May 19, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    no ibaka no shot blocka

  7. money2long - May 19, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    I noticed a typo in the article.
    It said spurs in 6.
    Should say thunder.

  8. bigmeechy74 - May 19, 2014 at 2:28 PM

    Kendrick Perkins should literally never play. Not even one minute. He is TERRIBLE

  9. antistratfordian - May 19, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    I can’t wait for this game. Of course I’d take the home team to win Game 1. But who is going to win the series? Hmmm… the Ibaka factor…. hmmm…. Leonard on Durant… hmmm….

    I’m going to have to say that the Spurs are probably going to win this series. But I would not be surprised if the Thunder pulled it off despite being Ibakaless.

    Good headline for after the game, regardless of outcome: “Ibaka-less Now”

  10. markv00 - May 19, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    Comes down to the same thing for the Spurs, transition D, Finishing the pick-n-roll and spreading the floor with consistent shooting. Also the Spurs bench is much better than the Thunders but when you get to this level all bets are off. I’m a Spurs fan, but more I’m a basketball fan so one game will not define a series. Whoever wins game one is not destined to win the series, everyone should know that. It’s big, but both teams are capable of bouncing back. That said, should the Ibaka issue result in blowout wins for the Spurs, look out, it may be a short series. The rest between games 2 and 3 benefit the Spurs. Much respect for OKC and Durant, they worry me, but without trying to make an off the cuff comment, I’m thinking Spurs in 6 (I hope Spurs in 4, but then I’d also have to admit I believe in unicorns)

  11. jolink653 - May 19, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    Depends on how OKC shoots from the outside. If they can shoot the three more consistently (I’m looking at you Sefolosha) and cut down on second-chance opportunities for the Spurs, the Thunder can win this series. Losing Serge is huge, no doubt, but they still have the talent to do it, including the ultimate weapon in the Slim Reaper

  12. bej0101 - May 19, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    sa in 6

    ind in 5

    bol2all

  13. khumbahmookz - May 19, 2014 at 5:19 PM

    Durant said. “They always stick to their same system. They get guys who fit. And they’ve got a great coach who gets those guys prepared.”
    Even with an aging core and numerous injuries throughout the season, the Spurs finished with the league’s best record. They did it with consistency and teamwork that has continued in the playoffs. San Antonio is shooting 49 percent from the field as a team in the postseason, with no player averaging 20 points.
    Oklahoma City counters with dynamic individual play from a pair of 25-year-olds. Durant is averaging 31.4 points and 9.5 rebounds in the playoffs. Russell Westbrook is averaging 26.6 points, 8.4 assists and 8.0 rebounds in postseason play.
    Westbrook, in particular, has San Antonio’s attention. While Durant’s play has been typical, Westbrook has improved significantly as a floor general during the playoffs.
    “He’s an incredible talent having a great playoff run,” Duncan said. “Some incredible numbers. Just an impressive athlete when you try to stay in front of him. His confidence is there.”
    The Thunder will be without Serge Ibaka, who led the league in blocked shots. The mobile, athletic forward injured his left calf in Game 6 of the conference semifinal against the Los Angeles Clippers.
    “It’s hard, but we’re going to move on,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. “We’re a very prideful organization and team. We’re going to move on.”
    Here are five things to watch in the series:
    THUNDER DOMINANCE: Oklahoma City won all four regular-season meetings with San Antonio this season, so the Spurs will take nothing for granted, even with Ibaka out.
    “You never get overconfident in that situation, especially against a team that we haven’t beat this year,” Ginobili said. “We know how talented they are. They can really score in bunches. Very athletic, strong, play good defense. So, no, we’re not going to get overconfident for sure.”
    IBAKA’S REPLACEMENT: Oklahoma City rookie Steven Adams is the most likely to see a spike in minutes. Veteran Nick Collison will play more, too. The Thunder could go with a smaller lineup at times and play Durant as a power forward. Coach Scott Brooks still wouldn’t say Sunday who would start in Ibaka’s place.
    PARKER’S HAMSTRING: San Antonio was likely to have significant help on Westbrook anyway, but Parker’s strained left hamstring could be a major problem against Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, two of the most athletic point guards in the league. Parker said Sunday that the hamstring was still tight, but he plans to play. Jackson said the Thunder will test Parker early.
    LEONARD vs. DURANT: Brooks said Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard is an All-Star in the making. The Spurs feel Leonard is the best equipped player in the league to bother Durant because of his length and energy.
    “As good as anybody can do it,” Ginobili said. “We are lucky to have him. Nobody can guard him (Durant) 1-on-1. That’s been proven – he’s the MVP – but you can put him in some trouble, and then the team has to respond.”

  14. acrill - May 19, 2014 at 6:57 PM

    Durant and Westbrook will rise to the occasion. We haven’t seen the best they can offer yet in this post-season.

    Thunder in 5.

  15. khumbahmookz - May 19, 2014 at 8:21 PM

    CLICK Watch Oklahoma City Thunder Vs San Antonio Spurs Live Stream

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