Oklahoma City is hungry for a championship while San Antonio’s unique blend of veterans and youth continue a lengthy win streak.
The final round of the Western Conference will be decided in the next week and a half or so.
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder
This is one of the more unique conference finals clashes in some time. In normal years, the Thunder would take the final step toward the championship round by dispatching a team past its prime or simply not as talented.
At one time, the Spurs were past their prime. Yes, they won four championships in nine years, but the last one came in 2007. Since then, the Lakers have dominated the Western Conference, playing in three of the last four NBA Finals and winning two of them. San Antonio stayed strong throughout these years, capturing the top seed in the West the last two seasons. No championships have come from those efforts — in fact, last year was a first-round embarrassment.
There’s this year though, and finally the Spurs will get tested after breezing through the first two rounds against outmanned Utah and the Clippers, whose two best players were slowed because of injury.
The Spurs are undefeated in the playoffs and haven’t lost since an April 11 blowout loss at home to the Lakers. Consistency is the name of the game for San Antonio. Tim Duncan and Coach Gregg Popovich have been around during this entire run, Duncan becoming arguably the greatest power forward in NBA history and Popovich taking his place among the coaching elite.
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs (4-0 second round) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder (4-1 second round) Spurs won season series, two games to one.
Regular season results: Jan. 8 (OKC 108, SA 96); Feb. 4 (SA 107, OKC 96); May 16 (SA 114, OKC 105)
Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are also mainstays on this squad, however, the Spurs have added quality veterans and developed young players to fit in with their style of play. What was once a defensive-minded team has transformed into a high-scoring machine.
OKC is also a machine, one with platinum parts thanks to the outstanding play of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Once again, Durant led the league in scoring at 28 points per game during the regular season. Westbrook has taken the giant step from All-Star to top-10 player. Perhaps even top five. Harden, the Sixth Man of the year, would start for most teams, including San Antonio. These guys have been so good — especially Durant and Westbrook — the rest of their team’s mistakes have been covered up.
Duncan will be challenged by Serge Ibaka, the NBA’s top shot blocker. Parker against Westbrook will be a battle and the Spurs will try to slow Durant with a host of defenders from Stephen Jackson to Kawhi Leonard.
The difference in this series will be the Spurs’ depth. They have numerous players who can knock down shots and fill the lane on the fastbreak. Other than Harden, OKC’s bench isn’t that great. Nick Collison, Derek Fisher and Daequan Cook are the other primary non-starters.
If Durant and Westbrook, who are once again the best players in the series, put up gigantic numbers, the Thunder will prevail. A bad shooting night or foul trouble for the Thunder dynamic duo will spell the end for OKC.
The Spurs should outlast OKC in a very competitive series.
The pick: Spurs in seven.