Kevin Durant (#35) and the Thunder will square off against Tim Duncan (#21) and the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals
Ryan Fox (@Scoop_Fox87)
And then there were 2 teams left in the NBA Western Conference as the young guns of the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the defending conference champion San Antonio Spurs. This will be the second time in three years that these two teams have met in the postseason.
The storyline that everybody is going to go for (or going to be force-fed by the “4-Letter Sports Channel” constantly) is the old guard vs. the young up-and-comers. The only thing these two teams have in common is they lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals (the Thunder lost in 5 games in 2012 while the Spurs lost in 7 games last year).
Though many NBA experts and fans are saying this rivalry is just getting started, people have forgotten these two teams have been playing against one another for years.
Prior to becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder, they were known as the Seattle SuperSonics. Whenever the Spurs and SuperSonics met, it was just a one-sided affair. In 131 games, the Spurs went 72-59 against the SuperSonics. Also, these two teams met in the playoffs three times during that same span. However the Spurs also dominated the SuperSonics in that regard, beating Seattle in the playoffs in 1982, 2002 and 2005.
But since the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City, it’s been pretty close between the two teams. The Spurs currently lead the series, 12-10, but during this past season the Thunder completed a 4-0 sweep during the season series.
In the playoffs, these two teams met only once in the Thunder’s current incarnation in the 2011-12 Western Conference Finals. The Spurs took the first two games at home in San Antonio (101-98 in Game 1 & 120-111 in Game 2) but then were outmatched in the next four games as the Thunder won the series in six.
Now these two teams are pitted against one another yet again for the chance to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. To get a better understanding of the series between the Thunder and Spurs, we'll break down the team by the starting five positions, their bench, and coaches to see who has the edge in which category.
(Key: Spurs, Thunder)
(Stats are from 2013-14 regular season)
There is some baggage when it comes down to these two players (Tony Parker’s age versus Russell Westbrook’s knee injuries). Although Parker is a true point guard and a facilitator of the offense, he does not take over a game in the style that Westbrook does (See Game 5 of Western Conference Semi-Finals against Clippers).
The numbers are similar to one another, but Danny Green produced in more games than Sefolosha, not to mention he still put up good numbers while splitting time with teammate Manu Ginobli.
It’s obvious who has the advantage at this position. Although Kawhi Leonard did do a decent job of guarding LeBron James during the NBA Finals last season, Kevin Durant is more of a pure scorer who can shoot from anywhere.
Reports came out last week that the starting power forward for the Thunder, Serge Ibaka, would miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury, so it’ll be backup Nick Collison taking on the likes of Tim Duncan. This will probably be a big mismatch that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich would be more than happy to exploit.
I want to say that Kendrick Perkins wins this match-up. He is a big body that can shot-block and play physical in the paint. But that physical play is a double-edged sword since he tends to pick up lots of quick fouls
It’s a no-brainer who has the advantage in this category. The Thunder kept relying on their starters to carry them throughout the entire season, whereas the Spurs used a mixture of their starters as well as bench players. The Spurs bench players got more game-time experience, thus giving Popovich much more viable options to go to when necessary.
Perhaps one of the more lopsided match-ups between the two teams. Scott Brooks is no slouch at all, winning Coach of the Year back in 2010, guiding his team to 50+ win seasons four out of the six years he’s been with the Thunder, and getting into the playoffs every year. But he’s going up against the likes of Popovich, a 4-time NBA Champion, 3-time winner of Coach of the Year Award, and a man who guided his team into the playoffs 17 out of the 18 years he’s been there. Plus, Popovich has consistently been using the same methods of resting players in the season (even if it ticks off some people), which then gives them enough energy to go on these deep runs.
What does the Fox Say?
There are many questions that surround this series: How will the Durant-Westbrook tandem fare? Will the Serge Ibaka injury prove to be costly? Do the Spurs have enough left in the tank? Will this be the last run of the Spurs Big 3?
It will be a close series, no question about that, and both teams will give it their all. However, there can only be one winner. After carefully examining both teams, yours truly has made his decision. It will be none other than the…..
Wait for it…
….the San Antonio Spurs who will go onto the NBA Finals. The Thunder rely too much on Durant and Westbrook and it showed a lot during their match-up against the Clippers. They only won that series due to sloppy play and coaching on part of the Clippers. However, the Spurs have been in this situation before so many times that it’s become natural to them. Their bench is too deep and too well-developed, which is key since now the Thunder have to dig deep on their side to find a replacement for the injured Ibaka.
It won’t be a sweep. Far from it. It wouldn’t shock me if this goes to seven games, but with the way the Spurs have been playing of late I can see the Spurs winning in six more than anything else. Sorry Thunder fans, better luck next year.
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