- When: Thursday, 04 April 2013 at 8:30 PM CST
- Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Finally, after such a long wait, we have the first game of the season. Oklahoma City versus San Antonio. After waitin…huh? What? It’s not the first game of the season? It’s only been 4 days since the last Thunder game? Really? Then I really need some help because I’ve gone through the 12 levels of grief, twice!, since the last time the Thunder played. That’s how long it has been. But, thankfully, for the sake of my health and sanity, the Thunder will lace them up tonight in what will probably be one of the most important games of the season.
The fight for the number one seed in the Western Conference probably hinges on what happens tonight. If the Thunder lose, they will be 2.5 games back with 7 to play. Those aren’t insurmountable odds, but the veteran Spurs will figure out ways to rest their starters and win the necessary games to keep the Thunder at bay. If the Thunder win, though, they’ll only be 0.5 games with an opportunity to take the conference lead the next night in Indianapolis. The Thunder, literally, control their own destiny. Not only do the Thunder split the season series between the two teams if they win, but they also own the tie breaker if both teams finish with the same record (W-L record within the conference).
The game is probably of more importance to the Thunder than it is to the Spurs. Even though Oklahoma City beat San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals last season as a lower seed, the dynamics of the team have completely changed since then. The James Harden trade in the beginning of the season completely overhauled one of the strengths of the Thunder, their bench. Though the Thunder’s bench has become increasingly effective as the season has progressed, the ability to play, not only a Game 7, but also the first two games of the series at home can do wonders for the players that come off the bench.
Probable Starting Line-ups
San Antonio Spurs
- PG – Tony Parker
- SG – Danny Green
- SF – Kawhi Leonard
- PF – Tim Duncan
- C – Tiago Splitter
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Thabo Sefolosha
- SF – Kevin Durant
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Kendrick Perkins
3 Keys to the Game
1. Weather the runs – San Antonio is one of those teams where a 10 point lead is not large enough unless there are less than 30 seconds left in the game. In the last meeting between these two teams, the Spurs used a 26-8 run in the 2nd quarter that turned an 11 point deficit into a 7 point halftime lead. The Thunder never recovered after that. The Spurs’ 3-point shooting can become infectious, leading to big runs. Using their time outs wisely (Scott Brooks, I’m looking at you) and finding ways to score during these runs will be key to winning this game.
2. Stop Parker’s dribble penetration – I know, easier said than done. But stopping Parker from attacking the paint is key to containing their 3-point shooting. If Parker gets past the first line of defense, then the entire defense sinks into the lane, opening up space for the shooters. It would probably be a good decision to start Thabo Sefolosha on Parker.
3. Bench play – One of the Spurs’ biggest strengths is their bench. While injuries to Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili may make the bench less effective, the players that remain, Boris Diaw, Gary Neal, Nando de Colo, etc, are crafty, efficient players that find ways to score. Look for Ronnie Brewer to play some 2nd quarter minutes to negate the effect of the Spurs’ bench a bit.