May 19, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
San Antonio Spurs 62-20 (No. 1 seed in West)
Oklahoma City Thunder 59-23 (No. 2 seed in West)
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.
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.
Jul 26, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Players asked Adam Silver for for an extended break when he first took office. He seems to be listening.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:46 PM EDT
Anthony reportedly strongly considered the Lakers too, but he says that wasn’t really the case.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
The union for the players continues to struggle to get some competent leadership in place.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
Come on, son.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT
Joakim Noah continues to be brutally honest when speaking about his team’s competition.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT
The Andrew Wiggins spin and dunk is a thing of beauty.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
Casspi ends up back with the Kings on a minimum salary deal.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:14 PM EDT
He is a solid backup to have while Dennis Schroder develops.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Magic rookie shows off handles
Jul 25, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT
Will Cherry was fun to watch at Las Vegas Summer League.
Jul 25, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT
George Karl is a better coach than Byron Scott
Jul 25, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Finally. Job has been vacant since April 30.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:44 PM EDT
Knicks’ record last season: 37-45
Melo’s contract value: $124,064,681
Jul 25, 2014, 1:11 PM EDT
Bulls also must make room for Nikola Mirotic in frontcourt
Jul 25, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Dirk Nowitzki presents a big strike zone.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
Former Bull and Piston sat out last season
Jul 25, 2014, 11:11 AM EDT
New TV deal expected to drastically increase revenue
Jul 25, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
Not a Cleveland Cavaliers beat reporter. A LeBron James beat reporter.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
Rookie big man has been mentioned in Kevin Love trade rumors
Jul 25, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Timberwolves reportedly come to their senses, prefer Andrew Wiggins to Klay Thompson
- Report: NBA considering week-long break for All-Star Game next year 0
- Report: Knicks made (ridiculous) offer to trade for Kevin Love 31
- Report: Lakers finally offer coaching position to Byron Scott, deal expected soon 24
- Report: Cavaliers leading Kevin Love-trade sweepstakes 41
- Players union approves of Thunder’s Josh Huestis arrangement 16
- Cavaliers officially sign Andrew Wiggins, putting 30-day hold on him being traded 58
- Lakers deny rumor they are waiting around for Doc Rivers to be coach 61