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.
May 22, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Give some credit to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who got back on defense.
Report: Lakers have ‘big-time’ interest in signing DeMarre Carroll, Celtics and Pistons also in pursuit
May 22, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT
Would they pay him the $15 million per season one NBA executive estimated the Hawks forward could get in free agency?
Report: Tom Thibodeau believed to prefer sitting out next season rather than helping Bulls by accepting trade
May 22, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
That could leave Magic, Pelicans, Bulls and Thibodeau in a bind
May 22, 2015, 1:28 PM EDT
Which probably means it’s his last in the NBA
Chandler Parsons won’t say whether his surgery was microfracture, might not be ready for training camp
May 22, 2015, 12:50 PM EDT
Tea leaves reading negative for Mavericks
May 22, 2015, 12:13 PM EDT
LeBron James poised for a big game
Report: Lakers not locked into drafting Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, could pick a guard at No. 2
May 22, 2015, 11:38 AM EDT
That’d be D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay
May 22, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
Consider it Riley’s revenge
May 22, 2015, 10:25 AM EDT
Is his injury more serious than previously thought?
May 22, 2015, 9:48 AM EDT
May 22, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
Cavaliers will keep leaning on injured point guard – at least to some degree – anyway
May 22, 2015, 8:31 AM EDT
Barnes all but begged for the chance for a couple years.
May 22, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Stephen Curry and James Harden have been putting on a show for a couple games now.
May 22, 2015, 2:17 AM EDT
James Harden has been nothing short of brilliant for two games.
May 22, 2015, 12:06 AM EDT
Harden scores 38 points, just misses triple-double
May 21, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Donaghy was sent to prison for betting on NBA games while he was employed as a league official.
May 21, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Golden State was rolling early in Game 2.
May 21, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
The seven-footer may be a top-five selection.
May 21, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
Thomas is now running New York’s WNBA team, but many feel it’s just a matter of time before he’s back in some capacity with the Knicks.
LeBron James after tweaking his ankle by stepping on cameraman: ‘His foot was out further than it should be’
May 21, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Tough to tell, but either way, too many people are too close to the action.
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