A running theme for me these playoffs has been fate. It was fate for us to face the Grizzlies in the first round to exorcise the demons from last season. It was fate for us to face the Clippers in the second round, as they have players that are interwoven into Oklahoma’s history. And again, I believe it is fate for the Thunder to meet the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
The Spurs are the model by which the Thunder are built. A sort of big brother, if you will. Many of the main components on the Thunder come from the Spurs organization, from the owner to the GM. Over the past three seasons, the Thunder and Spurs have been the best two teams in the conference and this is something of a rubber match.
Unfortunately, Serge Ibaka won’t be participating in this series. A Grade 2 calf strain will cause the power forward to miss the rest of this postseason. While both teams won’t be at full strength, this has never stopped this series from being competitive and fun.
Regular Season Series
Even since the Thunder did a gentlemen’s sweep of the Spurs in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, the Thunder have dominated the Spurs in the regular season. They’ve won 6 of their last 8 meetings, including all four this season.
In the first meeting of the season, the Thunder ended an 11 game winning streak by the Spurs, upending them 94-88, behind a big third quarter (25-15). In that game, Ibaka (sad face) dominated inside with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 blocks. In the second game, the Thunder used a big game from Russell Westbrook (31 points and 8 assists) and a big 2nd quarter (40-29) to defeat the Spurs 113-100. In the 3rd meeting of the season, the Thunder won 111-105 behind monster games from Kevin Durant (33 pts, 7 rebs, 5 asts) and Reggie Jackson (27 pts and 8 asts). The 4th meeting of the year, also known as the annual “if we win this game we might catch the Spurs in the standings” game, saw good performances by the Thunder’s top 4 players, leading to a 106-94 victory.
- Game 1 – Monday, 19 May 2014 at 8:00 PM CST (AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX)
- Game 2 – Wednesday, 21 May 2014 at 8:00 PM CST (AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX)
- Game 3 – Sunday, 25 May 2014 at 7:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
- Game 4 – Tuesday, 27 May 2014 at 8:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
- Game 5 – Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 8:00 PM CST (AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX)*
- Game 6 – Saturday, 31 May 2014 at 7:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
- Game 7 – Monday, 02 June 2014 at 8:00 PM CST (AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX)*
* If Necessary
Probable Starting Line-Up
San Antonio Spurs
- PG – Tony Parker
- SG – Danny Green
- SF – Kawhi Leonard
- PF – Tim Duncan
- C – Tiago Splitter
- Bench Depth – Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Thabo Sefolosha
- SF – Kevin Durant
- PF – Perry Jones
- C – Kendrick Perkins
- Bench Depth – Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams, Nick Collison, Caron Butler, Derek Fisher
3 Keys to the Series
1. 75/30 – With Ibaka out, the scoring onus continues to fall on Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson. Ibaka is probably the most consistent scorer in the leauge, always scoring between 13-17 points. To make up for that, the big 3 for the Thunder will probably have to average about 75 points per game, while the other players will have to somehow come up with 30 points. Can it be done? Of course. But the margin of error will go down with the loss of Ibaka.
2. Perimeter Defense – The Spurs have 6 players that are shooting at least 38% from 3-point land in the playoffs, with noted Thunder-killer Ginobili pitching in 31% from deep. The Thunder have had measured success in the defending the 3-point line because they have been able to keep Parker in front of them and out of the lane. Unfortunately, when Parker does get into the lane now, Ibaka will not be there to erase any of the Thunder’s perimeter mistakes.
3. Bench – If ever there was a series for Butler, Fisher, and Jackson to consistently hit shots, this would be it. The Spurs bench is leading the remaining playoff teams in scoring at 41.3 points per game. The Thunder bench averages just under 29 points per game in the playoffs. While the Thunder is top heavy, with 2 of the top 5 scorers in the playoffs, they will still need their bench to spell them during games.
For the Spurs – Rebounding – With Ibaka out, the Spurs, not known for their rebounding, will have more opportunity to grab offensive rebounds and get more scoring opportunities. On the other end, the Spurs have the opportunity to limit the Thunder to just one shot.
Another X-factor for the Spurs is the health of Parker’s hamstring. He was taken out of Game 5 of the Portland series and has not practiced with the team. Maybe something to watch as he tries to defend Westbrook throughout the series.
For the Thunder – Transition opportunities – The Thunder do a good job of forcing the Spurs into turnovers. That may be a bit muted now with Ibaka out in the series. Without the shot blocker in the paint, the Thunder have less leeway to gamble on steal opportunities.
Spurs in 6
I love my team, but the loss of Ibaka may be too difficult to get over in this series. Ibaka puts a lot of pressure on opposing offenses that live on dribble penetration. The Spurs’ guards would have second thoughts of taking the ball inside with Ibaka patrolling the paint. Now, the defense will have to help out more and that may open up the 3-point shooting for the Spurs. Can the Thunder win it? Of course. But they have to play close to perfect basketball on the defensive end for the full 48 minutes. Unfortunately, that has never been their greatest strength.