NBA Preview: Western Conference Finals, Spurs vs. Thunder

Daniel Romero-Salas
A Rappler breakdown of the Western Conference finals.

MANILA, Philippines — And then there were 4.

With only the top two teams from both conferences left standing, the Western and Eastern Conference finals are about to take off and as always, Rappler breaks down the match-ups and gives you a comprehensive take on what to expect.

Here’s all you need to know about the Western Conference finals between the powerful San Antonio Spurs, and the young and talented Oklahoma City Thunder team.

Click here for the Eastern Conference finals preview between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics in the next days.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS vs. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Season series: 2-1 San Antonio

The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are a combined 16-1 in the playoffs.

Ironically, the Thunder are modeled after the Spurs. Thunder GM Sam Presti cut his teeth working for the Spurs and molded his team after them.

Kevin Durant is much like Tim Duncan, a once in a generation talent that luckily fell into the lap of the franchise. Russell Westbrook is the athletic point guard who can get to the rim at anytime much like Tony Parker (who was drafted on Presti’s advice). James Harden is the selfless 6th man who can run the offense as well as the point guard much like Manu Ginobili.

All of these players will be the focus of the series.

The Spurs have pretty much owned the Thunder in the regular season. The Spurs have gone 8-2 against them in the last 3 seasons and are currently in a midst of winning 29 of their last 31 games. The Spurs have won 6 of their 8 playoff games by double digits (Game 4 against the Jazz was won by 6 but coach Gregg Popovich pulled the starters after 27 minutes). The Thunder are a young team that tries to gamble on defense. Against the ball movement of the Spurs, they have a hard time getting fast break points off turnovers.

Point Guard: Russell Westbrook may average more points per game than Tony Parker (24.1 to 19.1) but the advantage goes to Parker because of what he means to the Spurs offense. His probing and decision making in the pick and roll is crucial to ball movement that leads to San Antonio’s favorite shot, the corner 3 pointer.

San Antonio leads all teams in the playoffs in made corner 3’s with 28, the second team are the Thunder with 25. The corner 3 pointer is such an integral part of the San Antonio offense because it is one of the most efficient shots in the NBA. Because it is closest to the basket than any other location in 3 point land it is the easiest to make.

Spurs shooters like Danny Green, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner all space the floor and receive passes from Parker when he drives inside.

Rappler says: Advantage Spurs

Shooting Guard: Danny Green and Thabo Sefolosha are both defensive stoppers who will not be guarding each other in this series. Green will focus on Westbrook and Sefolosha may be put on Parker. Both are excellent one on one defenders but Green edges out Thabo because unlike Sefolosha, Green is a dangerous 3 point shooter.

Rappler says: Advantage Spurs

Small Forward: Kevin Durant is the second leading scorer in the playoffs with 26.7 points per game and will face the impressive rookie Kawhi Leonard. Durant will figure out ways to score but Leonard’s goal is going to make Durant work for every bucket. If he can do that and provide some scoring from his usual corner 3 point shots, off the ball cuts and offensive rebounds, coach Popovich will be satisfied with this matchup.

Rappler says: Advantage Thunder

Power Forward: Serge Ibaka will get the defensive assignment on Tim Duncan and that could be bad news. Ibaka is the league leader in blocked shots with 33 in the playoffs but still is foul prone. He has had 4 or more fouls in 6 of the 9 games this post season. Ibaka’s problem is that he bites on fakes easily and a great player like Duncan will certainly take advantage of this.

Rappler says: Advantage Spurs

Center: Kendrick Perkins will have a hard time playing in this series because of the matchups. He’s too slow to guard Duncan and does not want to chase shooters like Diaw and Bonner out to the 3 point line. He’s a bruiser who wants to be in the paint battling other big men.

In the last series he averaged 29 minutes per game against the Lakers. The Thunder needed him against Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. But in 3 games against the Spurs this year he has only played 19 minutes on average.

Boris Diaw may be undersized at 6’8” but he is the Spurs best offensive rebounder this postseason. His quickness allows him to slip in for loose balls. This is important because the Spurs in general do not crash the offensive glass. They are the 2nd worst offensive rebounding team in the playoffs with only 7.9 a game but Diaw can still provide extra opportunities.

Rappler says: Advantage Spurs

Bench: These benches are mirror images of each other; Manu Ginobili and James Harden will get the bulk of the minutes and are starting caliber scoring guards. Derek Fisher and Gary Neal are both tough shot making combo guards. Nick Collison and Tiago Splitter are high IQ big men on both ends of the floor. Watch out for Stephen Jackson, it was only last year he was averaging 18.5 points per game and has great versatility that has not yet shown itself in the past 8 games.

Rappler says: Even

The Spurs may not be the flashier team but they certainly match up well against the Thunder. Their spacing on offense and veteran poise stand in the way of the athletic ability of the Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will carry the scoring load but the Spurs will try to contain the rest of the team.

Rappler says: San Antonio Spurs in 5

– Rappler.com

Daniel Romero-Salas is a lifelong NBA fan with an inclination to statistical analysis of the game. He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, and strives to bring a refreshing take on one of the most popular leagues in the world. Follow him on Twitter: @danromerosalas

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