In many ways, Oklahoma City vs. San Antonio embodies age-old plots: The past meets the future; the protege battles the mentor; the original faces the clone.
It's a prototypical Hollywood script injected with the breath of life; the scene where an elder looks into a mirror that reveals a youthful portrayal.
Tim Duncan—a humble superstar, ideal ambassador and once-annual MVP candidate—leaves size-16 footsteps that Kevin Durant began following in 2007.
Tony Parker came into the league as an explosive, shoot-first-ask-questions-later point guard, much like Russell Westbrook.
The well-rounded, do-it-all Manu Ginobili adapted to a bench role, although, he's frequently assigned more minutes than most NBA starters. He was the recipient of the Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2008, four years before James Harden completed the same task.
Although the Olympics are just around the corner, June will mark the first passing of a torch due to Oklahoma City's five advantages.
The Spurs' path has resembled a cakewalk thus far. However, if the Thunder reach the NBA Finals, they will have taken the road less traveled.
Since the resignation of iconic head coach Jerry Sloan, Utah has underwent a transitional period. The roster displays solid role players but no fear-inducing threats.
Following a once-seemingly eternal vacation in NBA purgatory, the Clippers recently rejoined their cross-town rivals as a ticket-selling attraction in Los Angeles. However, questionable coaching, lack of experience and injuries ultimately hampered the Clippers' chances.
Oklahoma City competed against two franchises that are responsible for the last three NBA championships.
Setting out on a quest to repeat, the Mavericks were victimized by the Thunder in four straight games. Dirk Nowitzki and Co. were overwhelmed by Oklahoma City's diversity and lacked the inside presence of 2011's championship squad.
Before the Mavericks' run, the Lakers brought the trophy to the "City of Angels" in consecutive seasons. The Thunder faced an NBA legend in Kobe Bryant, accompanied by an incomparable tandem of seven-footers with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. But in a matchup amply fueled with storylines, the Thunder's depth and overwhelming quickness dominated.
San Antonio possesses championship experience, but Oklahoma City has prevailed in two rounds of youth vs. wisdom.
Oklahoma City's most coveted asset may be its diversity.
The entire roster was assembled to adapt to a wide range of scenarios and potential matchups.
Length? Got it. Quickness? Covered. Shooting? Check.
Tony Parker is the initial cog that powers a well-oiled offensive machine. However, in a rare occurrence, he'll be guarded by a fellow point guard that's actually quicker than he is.
Russell Westbrook's primary assignment will be defending Parker's ability to drive into the lane and wreak havoc amongst the giants. Considering Westbrook's unrivaled speed and Parker's nonexistent perimeter game, the task should prove less difficult than it did for Utah and Los Angeles.
The Thunder's defensive arsenal also includes a revered lock-down specialist in Thabo Sefolosha. Unless Tony Parker is making a mockery of the defensive strategy, Sefolosha will undoubtedly be glued to Manu Ginobili.
Due to unique quickness for his 6'10" frame, Kevin Durant accounts for another dynamic defender. His freakish wingspan allows Durant to alter shots in the post and also negates guards' speed advantage.
The majority of Oklahoma City's roster is capable of defending multiple positions.
A paralleled amount of diversity also holds true for offensive purposes.
James Harden—an unconventional sixth man that averages the third-most minutes on the team—presents a dual-threat of outside shooting and driving playmaker.
Daequan Cook is a respected sniper from behind the arc and his larger bench mate, Nick Collison, embodies a constantly red-lined motor in hot pursuit of every loose ball.
Derek Fisher—the newest member acquired via trade—has developed a renowned reputation for swishing clutch shots throughout his storied career.
In essence, Oklahoma City has the cheat sheet for every schematic riddle thrown its way.
San Antonio's inside-out offense revolves around a simple concept: Offensive spacing is created by defensive congestion.
Therefore, dribble penetration and feeding the post forces a pick-your-poison predicament for weak-side defense.
If Tim Duncan is posted up with the ball and a perimeter defender elects to help inside, the defense must prepare to rotate if Duncan passes it back to the unguarded outside shooter. Tony Parker creates the same scenario by driving into the paint.
Tim Duncan's recent play—which produces flashbacks of a youthful two-time MVP—only makes matters worse for defenders.
However, unlike the Clippers, Oklahoma City frequently demonstrates an intimidating post presence.
Serge Ibaka, the high-flying defier of gravity, amassed 241 blocks during the regular season. The Spurs, as a team, only accumulated 293.
The stone-faced Kendrick Perkins also presents a much tougher challenge defensively, as opposed to a vulnerable Blake Griffin.
When the two adversaries take the court for shootaround on Sunday, the half-court stripe will figuratively serve as a line drawn in the sand.
Oklahoma City's half will represent a youthful vibrancy that laughs in the face of fatigue. San Antonio's side will symbolize experienced veterans that compensate for any physical deterioration with progressing wisdom.
The Spurs have made a concerted effort to reduce the average age of their roster over recent offseasons. However, the core—Duncan, Ginobili and Parker—are all in their 30s.
Fatigue plagued San Antonio last season as Memphis bounced the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Considering their current winning streak, endurance hasn't factored into the equation...yet.
Oklahoma City's transition game is, arguably, just as threatening as "Lob City's." Its half-court offense is even more explosive than that of the aforementioned Clippers (especially when Los Angeles' lethal floor general, Chris Paul, is hampered by injuries).
The question isn't whether OKC's youth falls victim to San Antonio's wisdom—the Thunder have a substantial amount of playoff experience.
The X-factor will be the Spurs' ability to endure Oklahoma City's frantic pace, initiated by a personified blur known as Russell Westbrook.
To basketball fans, free throws are universally dreadful.
Unless the preceding whistle is blown late in the fourth quarter, the act consistently provokes half-hearted reactions from spectators painted with indifference.
Late-game situations often dictate the validity of earlier precedents that once warranted them. Even the referees aren't blind to the anti-climactic disappointment that free throws can impose.
Every second that players gradually compose themselves at the top of the key, basketball slowly punctures itself with baseball's eternally embedded thorn: patience.
Although free throws' disciplinary roots ultimately punish the fans as much as the offenders, they're rewarding for teams that value them. In Oklahoma City's previous series, the sole victory for the Lakers was attributed to a 41-of-42 stripe-shooting clinic.
While LA's masterful charity-line performance allowed for breathing room, the leash it loosened can adversely be tightened into a fateful noose.
Ask three-time MVP LeBron James—No. 6's late-game free-throw woes commonly tarnish the golden boy's legacy. Miami's current series may have already been sealed if LeBron knocked down two last-minute shots from the line in Game 2. Instead, "King James" missed the window of opportunity and inaccurately threw his two bricks at the rim.
His teammate, Mario Chalmers, owns an NCAA championship ring after swishing a game-tying three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left on the clock. However, the opportunity was only presented after the Derrick Rose-led Memphis Tigers collapsed at the foul line in the home stretch.
Collectively, the San Antonio Spurs shot .756-percent (ranked 19th in the NBA) from the stripe this season.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, finished first in the league by draining .806 percent of its opportunities. The Thunder also drew 317 more attempts than Greg Popovich's squad.
A free throw is a double-edged sword that often ends with a dull point. More times than not, it cuts Oklahoma City slack. On the other side, if San Antonio is careless, it can ultimately decapitate the Spurs' three-headed monster.