Any series that puts two title contenders against one another is bound to be endless fun. With OKC matching up with the Spurs, anyone who follows the league is going to be blown away by the amount of talent that’s on the floor at one time. Undoubtedly, the Thunder are the most talented team because of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but San Antonio’s system allows them to match up just fine.
In the four meetings between these teams in the regular season, they split 2-2 with only one game being decided by more than eight points — in that game, the Spurs rested LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, and Tony Parker and got blown out by 19.
Since both teams are evenly matched, below are three things to watch for that’ll dictate the series.
Can it get vaguer than this? Probably not, but this series is going to sway with how Westbrook plays. Specifically, he must take care of the basketball. Being such a dynamic player who creates a lot of OKC’s offense, Westbrook is bound to turn the ball over throughout the game. You’ll live with his four or five turnover nights if he gets 25 points and 11 assists, which he’s totally capable of.
In the March 12 contest, Westbrook had a remarkably pitiful performance that simply wasn’t like him. OKC lost 93-85 and Westbrook shot 5/16 for 19 points and dished out seven assists, but committed a whopping nine turnovers. He must make good decisions — particularly down the stretch — if the Thunder want a chance to advance.
While he’s a gifted athlete and willing passer, he’s going to have a mismatch against any Spur who isn’t Kawhi Leonard. On opening night, Tony Parker, Danny Green, and Patty Mills spent time defending Westbrook and he torched San Antonio for 33 points and ten assists. Russ can get to the cup against those guys with ease, and can easily take Mills and Parker in the post.
This means that Westbrook should look to take his shots early in the game and worry about getting teammates involved after. If he’s shooting more in the first couple quarters, his teammates become more effective down the stretch.
The Durantula vs. The Claw
Few things beat watching an incredible offensive player matchup against the league’s best perimeter defender. Unfortunately, we only got to see Durant and Leonard matchup twice in the regular season, but both superstars were fantastic in those two.
It’s great to watch because they attack each other so vehemently. In the first meeting, Leonard played scintillating defense on Durant, blocked him twice, and got him out of his rhythm. KD finished that night with just 22 points on 6/19 shooting while Leonard attacked relentlessly on his way to a 32-point performance.
In their second meeting, they didn’t spend too much time guarding each other until the fourth quarter. Danny Green was charged with the task of trying to hold Durant and it just didn’t work; Kawhi, for some reason, was matched up with Andre Roberson.
Danny Green’s Shooting
Remember when Danny Green was considered one the league’s premier shooters? I’m not sure anyone knows what happened, but Green fell into a deep shooting slump this year and was unable to get out of it. Back when San Antonio made their two straight finals appearances, Green shot 48% from three and made 103 combined threes in the playoffs those years.
I must say, Green did a great job shooting against Memphis and bucketed 46% of his attempts in that series. Although Memphis’ roster was deeply depleted, it most likely worked wonders for his confidence. During the season, however, Green struggled to throw the ball in the ocean. He shot just 33% from downtown which was his lowest shooting percentage since his rookie season, and while he hasn’t been shooting great, he shoots exponentially better in wins than losses. Green appeared in 65 of the Spurs’ wins and 14 of their losses and was up nearly 15 percentage points in wins — 36% in wins, 21.2% in losses.
Unfortunately, it might be a long series for Green as OKC has a ton of length on the perimeter to contest his shots.
Spurs in seven.