San Antonio—the other WCF contender—has been absolutely fantastic over the past month and their greatness can’t be ignored, but they were given a much easier road to the same destination.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the rest of the OKC squad had to first go through the gritty defending champion Dallas Mavericks. They did this with poise and ended up sweeping the team that beat them in last year’s conference finals.
Next, they ran into a grizzled Lakers group that had been to three of the last four Finals and won two of them. They managed to just drop one contest in the series, and the suspect officiating in Game 3 robbed them of another sweep.
Had it not been for that trigger-happy, ref-aided 99-96 Lakers win, we would be talking about two undefeated postseason teams meeting up in the Western Conference Finals.
Despite the fact that the Spurs have not lost since April 11 (fittingly, against the Lakers) and are on an 18-game winning streak, they should not be the favorites in this series.
The Thunder are the younger, hungrier team that cut their teeth and were humbled after their first deep playoff run last season. Just getting back to the conference finals is no longer enough for this emerging contender. Winning is everything and anything less than a Finals trip is a disappointment.
Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan aren’t exactly the youngest three stars in the league and eventually the Thunder’s athleticism and fresh legs are going to haunt the Spurs.
With most of their star players at or under the age of 23, OKC will have no problem running their hardest for each play during every game of the series. It’s doubtful that San Antonio will be able to hold on for long at that pace.
The Spurs have been beating teams by going inside with Duncan, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter and kicking out to a myriad of three-point shooters. The Thunder have the length and strength to stop the plays in the post before they get started and the speed to close out on the snipers.
It’s a dream matchup for the Thunder and they will be advancing to represent the West in the NBA Finals in 2012.