With the Thunder closing out their series with the Lakers last night, the Western Conference Finals are set. It will be the consistent play of the veteran Spurs versus the uptempo athleticism of the Thunder.
This is certainly the most intriguing matchup of the playoffs so far. From the rosters to the coaches, these two squads are polar opposites.
This will be the first real test for the Spurs, who swept the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers. Not that the Jazz or Clippers were easy to beat, but they are nowhere near the competition the Thunder will be.
The Thunder, however, beat the last two NBA Champions in the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers to get to the Conference Finals. Playing those two veteran teams should at the very least get the Thunder ready for San Antonio.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, the 2012 NBA Coach of the Year, will probably have watched hours of film on the Thunder before they meet in Game 1 on Sunday night. Popovich will have to come up with a plan to limit the Thunder's scoring.
The Thunder is so explosive offensively, you can never count them out of a game. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can combine for 60 points on any given night. Durant and Westbrook are matchup nightmares, but look for San Antonio to try and force them into making difficult shots.
The Thunder, while very talented, can be stopped. If the Spurs can stop the dribble-drives by clogging up the lane, it forces the Thunder to shoot jumpers almost exclusively. When the lane is taken away, the young stars of OKC tend to take contested shots. More often than not they drop, but when they don't, the Thunder is vulnerable.
The season series went to San Antonio 2-1, so the Spurs were clearly able to contain the Thunder. Another thing to consider is the addition of Manu Ginobili. He didn't play against the Thunder at all this year. How will the Thunder deal with him? It will be interesting to see, considering he has the matchup advantage on Derek Fisher.
San Antonio is excellent at avoiding mistakes. They are too well-coached, too savvy, and too experienced in the playoffs. They won't beat themselves, something a younger team is prone to do.
Both teams are averaging around 100 points per game. While the Thunder rely heavily on drive and dish jumpers, the Spurs rely on Tim Duncan in the post and on the pick-and-roll with Tony Parker. Parker played great against the Thunder this year, so they will need to game-plan to limit him offensively. Duncan is still good, but not nearly as dominant. The Thunder may try to make him beat them, not Parker or Ginobili.
This will be an exciting series, and I expect it to go the full seven games. These teams are both talented, both well-coached, and both feel like they are the better team. One team has been there before, the other on the rise. It should be a great series, but I will take the Thunder to win. I think it is Durant's time to shine.