The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs will begin the Western Conference Finals this coming Sunday at 8:30 p.m. EST.
It is a very highly touted matchup between the two teams that are playing better than anyone else in the NBA right now. Combined they have lost just one game in the playoffs so far.
There will be many great matchups in the series beginning with maybe one of the most important: James Harden and Manu Ginobili.
Harden came into the league in 2009 and was always compared to Ginobili. Both are left-handed and have very similar styles of play and skill sets. Harden is blossoming into an All-Star now in his third season while Ginobili is on the decline but still very much a star in his own right.
Harden and Ginobili are also two of the best sixth men in the history of the NBA. Both could start but their teams need them to come off the bench to really hit their potentials.
Harden played in 62 games for the Thunder this season and averaged 16.8 points per game, 3.7 assists and had a career-high true shooting percentage of .660.
Harden has picked up his game in the playoffs most noticeable in his aggressiveness getting to the line. He averaged 6.0 free throw attempts per game in the regular season and is getting to the line 7.9 times per game in the playoffs.
Ginobili played just 34 games this season and actually began the season as a starter before returning to his more comfortable role off the pine. He averaged just 12.9 points (lowest since 2004) and 4.4 assists with a true shooting percentage of .668.
Ginobili, while capable of turning it up in the playoffs, hasn’t needed too yet for the Spurs and is scoring only 11.3 points per game in the playoffs but playing just 26.3 minutes per game.
Harden and Ginobili will play huge roles in this upcoming series. The Thunder really rely on Harden to lead their second unit and sometimes even get them back into the game.
The Thunder usually have an advantage when their bench is in mainly because of Harden but the Spurs probably have the best bench in the NBA and the best depth of any team in the league.
So the matchup is really Harden vs. Ginobili and the entire Spurs bench. Harden is a one man show out there for the Thunder while the Spurs get it done by committee.
While Harden may not be able to match the Spurs production himself, it will still be vitally important for him to at least keep it close and get into a rhythm himself.
One of the secrets about the Spurs that not many people are talking about (which is understandable since they haven’t lost a game since April 11) is that they aren’t the greatest defensive team. The Spurs don’t have what we’d call a “championship” defense.
They’ve dominated in the playoffs largely because of how efficient their offense is. Their defense isn’t bad, but it’s not what’s won them games so far.
Handling the Thunder offense is going to be a brand new challenge for the Spurs and handling Harden in general may be impossible for them.
In three games against San Antonio this season, Harden averaged 19.3 points and shot .594 percent from the field. He’s going to be able to get into good rhythm in this series and that’s not a good thing for the Spurs.
The greatest advantage that the Thunder have against the Spurs is that their big three should be able to “get theirs” pretty easily and starting with Harden.
What we’re going to see in this series will be different from what we’ve seen so far for both teams.
The Spurs will be up against a team that will be able to match their offensive fire power or at least come very close. The Thunder will be playing against a veteran team who is going to come out and accomplish just about everything they want to.
It is hard to imagine saying that James Harden will have a big series and the Thunder will not win. But the Spurs are the only team who could probably withstand a Harden storm and it will be coming.