Fans who’ve given up on the NBA after the atrocities committed by the Pacers, Heat, Celtics and 76ers these past two weeks are blameless, but wrong. They should give the league one more chance and check out what should be a gem of a Western Conference Finals.
The Thunder-Spurs matchup overflows with classical themes: youth vs. experience, raw explosiveness vs. execution, upstart vs. established power. Thunder fans should spend the next week alternating between “excited” and “terrified.” Here are the reasons for each emotional extreme.
Thunder Should Dread: A Bottled-Up Kevin Durant
The Spurs locked Durant up as well as any regular-season opponent. Kawhi Leonard has the quickness to get a hand in Durant’s face on the perimeter while also funneling him toward help on the drive. If Leonard and Co. can continue to hold the Thunder’s star under his scoring average, it’s hard to see where OKC can make up the points.
Thunder Hope For: A Road Victory
This one is obvious – of course the team with only three home games will need one road win to take the series – but it carries some nuances. If the Thunder head to Oklahoma City for Game 3 trailing 2-0, the series will be virtually over, as it’s hard to imagine them a) winning four straight against the Spurs, or b) winning a Game 7 in San Antonio. It is imperative to take either Game 1 or Game 2 on the road.
The Thunder have been competent away from home this postseason, winning three of four games by an average of 8.3 points. Viewers should take those wins with several grains of salt, though, since they came against the decomposing Mavericks and dysfunctional Lakers.
The Spurs are far more imposing, especially when considering that their road prowess means none of the Thunder’s home games are guaranteed victories. Oklahoma City could easily find themselves having to win multiple games in the AT&T Center to advance to its first NBA Finals.
Thunder Should Dread: An Inattentive Westbrook
Russell Westbrook’s defense has been as inconsistent as his offense in the 2012 playoffs: one game, he’s playing amazing denial that keeps Jason Terry from even sniffing the ball; a few games later, he’s falling asleep away from the ball and praying Steve Blake misses a wide-open game-winner.
If Westbrook loses track of Danny Green, Gary Neal, or any of the other members of San Antonio’s three-point shooting phalanx – as he has in the past – it’s like giving the Spurs 15 free points per game.
Thunder Should Hope For: Every Weapon to Show Up
As well-coached and fundamentally sound as the Spurs are defensively, neither they nor any other team can contain the Thunder’s high-octane offense when all three of OKC’s perimeter trio (Durant, Westbrook, James Harden) brings his A game. If all three of them gets in the 20-point range with high efficiency, it could be enough to outscore the Spurs, since the Thunder defense is not disciplined enough to truly stop them.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.