Western Conference Semifinals (Best 4 of 7)
Thunder (4-1, 2-0 road) vs. Spurs (4-0, 2-0 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:30 PM CST
Series tied 0-0
Playoff Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats – out of 16 teams)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 117.7 (1st), Spurs – 111.9 (3rd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 99.3 (6th), Spurs – 89.3 (2nd)
There is something to be said about inevitability. Everything this year has been leading up to this point. From early on in the season, it became increasingly clear that if the Oklahoma City Thunder had visions of hoisting up any type of team-related hardware, they would likely have to go through the three teams above them in the standings: San Antonio, Golden State, and finally, Cleveland. This series represents the first step in that treacherous triumvirate.
3 Big Things1. Get the Upper Hand
Every time the Thunder have faced the Spurs in the playoffs, they same pattern plays out. The Thunder lose the first two on the road, then win the next two at their place. I’d like to see what happens to the dynamic of the series if the Thunder win one of the first two road games of the series. Like in 2012, the Spurs come into this series on a bit of a win streak after sweeping Memphis in the first round. It’s not really the 18 straight they won heading into the Western Conference Finals in 2012, but it was still the only sweep in the Western Conference.
If the Thunder are primed to steal one, then Game 1 is likely their best chance. The Dallas series provided Oklahoma City an opportunity to play against a team that plays a similar style to the Spurs. Injuries forced the Mavericks to slow the pace of the game, while treasuring every possession in the halfcourt set. San Antonio, while much better on the personnel side, plays a similar style where they grind the game down defensively, but are extremely efficient on the offensive end. On the flip side, San Antonio’s first round opponent (Memphis) plays nothing like the Thunder. After four games of playing against Memphis, the Spurs may face an adjustment period in getting re-calibrated to the Thunder’s speed.2. Front-court Match-ups
Serge Ibaka has historically not played very well against LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs power forward does most of his damage from the mid-range, which takes Ibaka out of his comfort zone. It’s the reason why Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison usually guarded Aldridge late in games when he played for Portland. In the Dallas series, Steven Adams got a couple cracks at guarding Dirk Nowitzki. What I see happening is Ibaka will start the game on Tim Duncan, who is more prone to work the interior than Aldridge. And Adams, who is bigger and just as athletic as Ibaka, will guard Aldridge. Luckily for Adams and Oklahoma City, Aldridge is much less of a risk from three-point territory than is Nowitzki.
Off the bench, Boris Diaw and David West will likely match-up against Nick Collison and Enes Kanter. Collison will do a good job of staying with Diaw on the perimeter. Kanter, on the other hand, will have to adjust to the physical play of West, who has bullied him in previous meetings this season.3. Dion Waiters
In 5 games against Dallas, Waiters averaged 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists on 40% shooting from 3-point territory. If he can somehow replicate that production on that efficiency, the Thunder will be that much more dynamic.
2nd and 3rd options – If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are options 1A and 1B for the Thunder, then everyone else on the roster is leveled in tiers below them. And San Antonio will try to make Oklahoma City beat them with their 2nd and 3rd options than with their 2 first options. This is where the importance of Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, and Dion Waiters comes into play. When those three players are performing, it can easily push a 5 points game into a 20 point game within the scope of a quarter. If those three players aren’t performing, then life for the first 2 options gets that much more difficult.