The Spurs and Thunder meet for the right to go to the NBA Finals. Personally, I was hoping for a Spurs-Lakers legacy defining series, but there's no question the Thunder and SA are the best in the West. OKC is 8-1 in the playoffs while we all know the Spurs are riding a "please stop mentioning this" 18-game win streak heading into this series. It's a battle of heavyweights so with all due respect to HBO's Harold Lederman, let's look at the Tale of the Tape.
Season series: 2-1 Spurs
OK, Richard Jefferson played in the first two games so I'm compelled to almost them out the window. Game 3 was played in mid-March in OKC when the Thunder were atop the West, but the Spurs were moving up the standings. The Spurs laid down the hammer and led by 27 points before OKC rallied in the fourth but couldn't overcome the huge deficit.
It didn't cost OKC in the big picture, but the Spurs were nipping at their heels and the Thunder came out flat in a big game at home. It could have been worse, but Manu and Diaw didn't even play. The Spurs lost three times afterward including the giveaway game at Utah while OKC lost eight times and limped into the playoffs. Does this mean anything now? Not really, but it would have been nice to see the Thunder respond to the beat down. They get their chance now. On to the individual matchups.
Parker vs. Westbrook:
Probably the best matchup of the series. Both All-Stars can score at will, but the difference is OKC needs Westbrook to put up points to have a chance and the Spurs don't need Tony to drop 30 every night. Even with that said, TP put up 42 and 25 point games against OKC this year.
Westbrook countered with a 36 point outing, but struggled in the other two meetings. Both are good, but not elite defenders. Tony will take advantage of his speed and quickness while Westbrook will look to use his athleticism and explosiveness to try and overpower Parker. I'm giving a slight edge to Parker, but it's almost a push. I expect both to play well and cancel each other out.
Sefolosha vs. Green:
Classic glue guys for both teams. Green has been a revelation for the Spurs while Thabo does everything for OKC. Sefolosha's numbers naturally drop due to Harden's emergence, but he's a good defender who can run the floor. Green has improved by leaps and bounds and more important, Pop trusts him in late game situations. Green defended CP3 well and averaged double-digits against the Clips. Edge goes to Green.
Leonard vs. Durant:
My grandmother used to give me something Hispanics call "bendicions" or blessings, and Kawhi will need a lot of that in this series. Leonard's all-around game has been huge for SA all season, but Durant has reached a new level this post-season. KD has nailed three game winners so far and he's picked up his game defensively.
The Spurs will not put Kawhi on an island and no doubt double Durant at times, but you can expect him to get between 25 to 30 a night. You accept this if you're a Spurs fan and hope one of these games doesn't come down to his last shot. Edge goes to The Durantula.
Duncan/Diaw vs. Ibaka/Perkins:
I grouped these four together because it's essentially a matchup of SA's two skilled big men against OKC's big men who couldn't hit a jumper to save their lives, but play ferocious defense. I expect Perkins to body Duncan with Ibaka roaming the paint. Perk was solid against the Lakers and kept Bynum in check, but he's going up against a much better passer and outside scorer in Timmy D.
Duncan should continue to play at a high level, but I can see Ibaka's quickness giving him some issues. Serge did have 11 combined blocks in their three games. This is where Diaw comes into play because Rules 1a and 1b against a shot blocker are draw him away from the paint and use his over aggressiveness to get him in foul trouble. Both Diaw and Duncan are savvy enough to do this. On the defensive end, Duncan will mostly act as a rim defender and look to help defend against OKC's Big 3. Again, neither Perkins or Ibaka will scare anyone offensively, but they are good rebounders and quick enough to get put backs which deflate a defense. Edge still goes to the Spurs big men. The main reason? It's Tim Duncan we're taking about here. Moving on.
Manu/Spurs bench vs. Beard/Thunder bench:
All season we've heard the Spurs have best bench the league. This is true against most teams, not against the Thunder. I realize the Spurs are deeper, but James Harden has turned into a 'game changer.' Can you honestly say this about Manu or any other Spurs bench player right now?
In fairness, Ginobili played better against the Clippers, but I haven't seen that signature Manu moment yet. Maybe it happens this round, but I'll take The Beard over Ginobili if you asked me today. OKC doesn't match the Spurs depth, but I like Collison's grit and Fisher is good for at least one dagger 3-pointer. On the Spurs end, I feel Captain Jack is ready to have a big game, in fact, he needs to have a big game, and guys like Neal, Bonner, Tiago and even Blair have all played well when called upon. This along with the PG guard matchup is the hardest one to call. The tipping point for me is Harden's explosiveness and his awesome beard powers of course. Edge goes to OKC.
Gregg Popovich vs. Scott Brooks:
This is kind of interesting. Gregg Popovich is going for his fifth title, Scott Brooks is going for his fifth series win. There's no debate even though Brooks has done a nice job guiding this team and managing the egos of his young stars. My only concern with Pop is who will he intentionally foul next. I love the mind games at this point in the postseason and no one does it better than Pop. Edge goes to Coach Popovich.