After waiting nearly a week for this epic series to start, it's finally arrived. With the Eastern Conference being slightly depleted with recent injures, it is likely that the winner of the Western Conference Finals will be a heavy favorite in the Finals. With Thunder GM Sam Presti building the organization the same way the Spurs did almost to a tee, it's going to be interesting to see how the two teams match up against each other.
One team has all the experience in the world and is savvy in every sense of the word, and another is extremely young with a lot of star power playing with a chip on their shoulder. San Antonio has the best coach in basketball, and Scott Brooks looks to get over last year's conference finals loss. This series has a chance to be remembered for a long time and has the potential to be one of the all-time greats.
Here's five reasons why:
The San Antonio Spurs share the ball better than anyone in the league. Their ability to make the extra pass to find the open shooter is amazing to watch. Nobody on their team has an ego and couldn't care less about their stats. Their role players buy into their roles perfectly.
The Oklahoma City Thunder loves to run iso plays for Westbrook, Durant and Harden. The Thunder will be out of these series quick if they can't get the pick-and-roll with Harden/Collison going. The Thunder are at their very best when Westbrook and Durant are on opposite wings with Harden and Collison running the pick-and-roll at the top of the key.
If you're a Spurs fan, that offense sounds extremely familiar because the Spurs are masters at running it. The Thunder have to play excellent pick-and-roll defense to have any shot against the amazing team ball the Spurs are capable of.
What scares me the most is, the Spurs have a ridiculous amount of shooters. It's really not that fair with how many good shooters they have. I feel like I've never truly witnessed Matt Bonner miss a three-point shot. I've heard rumors that he misses sometimes, but I'm having a tough time believing it.
Again, the Spurs bench is amazing. Oklahoma City's bench would be able to compete with San Antonio if the Thunder had a healthy Eric Maynor. But unfortunately, we're not getting the chance to see one of the best back-up point guards in the league go up against the Spurs' excellent bench.
It will be interesting to see how Tiago Splitter goes up against Nick Collison. According to Skip Bayless, Splitter sets some "mean picks" to get shooters like Bonner open. Collison is one of the best screen-setters we have in the game to get Harden and three-point specialist Daequan Cook open. Splitter is a great player, although Collison makes more winning plays than Splitter thus far. However, Collison has been extremely quiet in the playoffs in the past two series.
Stephen Jackson still has the potential and experience to be a game-changer. With Kawhi Leonard being a rookie and an average defender, they don't have really anyone who can compare to Dallas' Shawn Marion or the Lakers' Metta World Peace.
Oklahoma City has a lot of experience and a surprisingly hot shooter right now in Derek Fisher, but obviously doesn't have the athletic ability, size or speed to keep a decent athletic guard in Patrick Mills in front of him. Nazr Muhammed and Nick Collison will have to help out preventing easy layups, which will open up the open shooters for the Spurs.
Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker is will be a dream match up to watch. Neither has had to work too hard on defense yet throughout the playoffs and will have to buckle down every possession in this series.
Tony Parker has already come out saying his goal is to make Westbrook work hard on defense and make him work while adding that Westbrook hasn't seen anyone quite like him yet.
While that is true, it's also true that Parker hasn't seen anyone quite like Westbrook yet either. Parker hasn't come close to seeing anybody close to the athletic ability that Westbrook has. Last time these two teams went at it, Parker destroyed Westbrook going for 40+ points with ease. After that game, Westbrook admitted to letting his emotions get the best of him. Since then, he has said that because of that game, he gives more of an effort to not let his emotions get the best of him.
It will be interesting to see how Westbrook handles the rematch since that last game. This might be the most intriguing matchup of the entire series and will be one closely watched by everyone.
Besides growing up in two different countries and having a 12-year difference in age, James Harden and Manu Ginobli's games mirror each other. Both have completely endorsed the role of the sixth man coming off the bench and being a game changer.
They're both lefties, sneaky athleticism, great passers and are instant game-changers. Harden might slightly have the edge with athleticism, but Ginobli is a craftier with his passes. They're both masters at the Euro-step. Seriously, they're both in the top three with their Euro-step, with the list also including Dwayne Wade. They're both above-average defensively. The only difference between them in this series will be who's hotter offensively.
Neither have shot extremely thus far in the playoffs, and it will be interesting to see who heats up first. My prediction of this series is based off which of these two catch fire first.
James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant going up against Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan is hoops heaven. Harden and Ginobli play extremely similar. Same goes for Parker and Westbrook. And the offenses are both built around Durant and Duncan. All three of the Spurs players have championship experience, while the Thunder's big three looks to get the sour taste out of their mouth from last year's Western Conference Finals.
After all, the entire Thunder organization was built almost as a replica of the San Antonio Spurs. When GM Sam Presti arrived in the SuperSonics/Thunder organization, he quickly traded for picks for players resembling Parker, Ginobli and Duncan.
With the Spurs' big three having about 10 years of experience on the Thunder, Oklahoma City has much more athleticism and energy obviously because of its young age.
Forget Miami; these two teams have the best trios in the league. If you can't get excited for this matchup, then you're not a basketball fan.