The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs will present each other with many interesting matchups in the Western Conference Finals beginning Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. EST.
The most interesting matchup may be the point guard battle between Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker.
Westbrook and Parker as point guards are the two players that really make their respective offenses go and each had great seasons this year as they were both recently named to the All-NBA Second Team.
Westbrook averaged 23.6 points and 5.5 assists in the regular season while shooting a career-high .457 percent from the field. In the playoffs, Westbrook is averaging 24.1 points and 4.4 assists and shooting .472 percent from the floor.
Parker had an MVP-like campaign with the Spurs averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 assists. In the playoffs, he’s averaging 19.1 points and 7.1 assists.
Westbrook has the better numbers overall and is the more complete player but Parker will be an extremely tough matchup for Westbrook. Against the Thunder in the regular season, Parker averaged 23.7 points and 7.7 assists including a 42-point night.
Westbrook isn’t a true point and Parker is. Veteran point guards like Parker or Chris Paul are the points who have given Westbrook the most trouble this season.
Westbrook has the tools to be a great defender but doesn’t always use them the right way especially against someone like Parker who is so great in pick-and-rolls. Westbrook tends to over anticipate and gamble too much allowing Parker to assess and attack the best possible spot.
That was the regular season though. Westbrook has turned it up in the playoffs most notably with his defense against Jason Terry in the first round. Granted, Terry isn’t the same type of player as Parker but Westbrook still showed an ability to totally commit his athleticism on defense to completely take away another player.
This will also be Westbrook’s number one priority against Parker and the Spurs. If Parker can be contained and Westbrook can win that battle, the Thunder will be in prime position to take the series.
With all of the talk surrounding the Spurs’ offense, few people are mentioning the problem San Antonio will have matching up with Westbrook’s offensive arsenal.
Westbrook averaged 22.3 points and 5.7 assists against the Spurs in the regular season and should be able to up those numbers in this series.
Parker simply can’t handle Westbrook. That’s ok to an extent because the Spurs are such a great team and will rely on all five players to lockdown Westbrook but that puts the Thunder at a huge advantage.
The players that give Westbrook the most trouble are bigger defenders. When Westbrook doesn’t feel his defender is near his athletic equal, he will think it’s time to abuse that defender and more often than not does just that.
The first thing Westbrook will look to do in every game is get his midrange pull-up jump shot going. He looks for this in transition and occasionally in the half court.
The Spurs can game plan all they want to stop this but the results are always controlled by Westbrook. He can get to any spot on the court because he is a superior athlete to all and the elevation on his jumper makes a contest basically irrelevant.
If Westbrook finds a rhythm, San Antonio is in trouble. If the Spurs can get lucky and have Westbrook not hitting his jump shot, he goes into attack mode where he is less efficient and that gives the Spurs more of an advantage, although he may be able to have more success attacking against San Antonio than he did against the Lakers.
Both Westbrook and Parker will look to establish their pace and their rhythm early in Game 1. With the game on the road it becomes even more important for Westbrook to find his if the Thunder are going to steal one of the first two in San Antonio.