The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs will finally get a chance to give NBA fans what they have been waiting for tomorrow night when they tip Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at 8:30 p.m. EST.
The Thunder and Spurs are playing better than anyone in the NBA and will provide fans with some fantastic matchups. Here at Thunderous Intentions we’ve already previewed the James Harden-Manu Ginobili matchup and Russell Westbrook-Tony Parker matchup.
Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan round out the teams’ big three’s and how they compare in this series will also be very important in deciding the outcome.
Durant and Duncan won’t guard each other but the production of each and what it means to their teams are similar. Both teams rely on Durant and Duncan as their two most established stars for their consistency and ability to take over at times (in different ways now).
Durant had a near MVP-season this year if it wasn’t for LeBron James. He led the league in scoring for the third straight season averaging 28.0 points per game and also averaged a career-high 8.0 rebounds per game.
Durant didn’t score the most he ever has but part of that was that he didn’t need to score as much as his team improved around him and he did up his shooting numbers posting a career-high .610 true shooting percentage.
Duncan is past his prime. This is no secret. But his play this season and especially lately still leaves him as one of the best big men in the game. He averaged 15.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this season in just 28.2 minutes per game.
Duncan has picked up his game in the playoffs now averaging 17.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks as the Spurs are 8-0 so far in the postseason.
If either Durant or Duncan is playing less than their averages in this series, the other team is suddenly in a great position. Durant’s level of play is easier to tell with numbers while Duncan’s impact doesn’t show up as much in those ways.
In three games against the Spurs this season, Durant only averaged 22.7 points per game and shot .468 percent from the field. That is well below par for Durant but don’t expect to see those numbers in this series.
The Thunder didn’t play very well against the Spurs this season overall. This Thunder team is much better now with how they are playing in the playoffs and are doing a better job of getting Durant into rhythm.
Despite Durant’s overall lower numbers against San Antonio this year, the Spurs aren’t going to have an easy job containing him. Durant got many open looks against the Spurs in those three games and has the ability to get those looks on catch-and-shoots and post-ups.
The Spurs play great team defense but Durant is a huge mismatch problem for them. The Thunder have gone to Durant in the post more in the postseason although didn’t too much in the Lakers series because of Metta World Peace. Against San Antonio they will be able to and a “playoff-level engaged” Durant should be able to produce down there.
Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Stephen Jackson should draw the assignment of sticking Durant for most of this series. They are all fine defenders in their own right but Durant is much taller than either of them and they aren’t necessarily the physical type either that can cause Durant to struggle.
Expect easy looks for Durant or at least easier looks than what he got against the Lakers in this series.
If the Spurs go zone, and they probably will some, that’s only a good thing for Durant. The Thunder are one of the best teams in the NBA at attacking a zone and Durant is probably the best zone offensive player in the league because of his ability to easily shoot over one.
While Durant’s greatest impacts will come on offense, Duncan is more about his defense and the way he defends the Thunder’s pick-and-roll game will be critical.
The Thunder run Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Durant in pick-and-rolls all of the time. This means Duncan will have a lot of responsibility coming out hedging and defending those three.
If the Thunder get into a good offensive flow they will be able to attack the Spurs’ defense and Duncan in particular with greater ease. If Duncan is very active and able to effectively force the Thunder ball handlers out of their rhythm then advantage Spurs.
Duncan is also pretty much the lone rim protector for San Antonio. He is one of the great shot blockers of all-time but it will be as hard as ever protecting the rim against this Thunder team.
Durant and Harden will certainly have moments throughout the series where they are able to get into the lane and score and it will be up to Duncan to make those looks tough ones.
On offense, Duncan will have to deal with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka mostly. Duncan won’t be asked to post-up as much as he used to but the Spurs will still certainly go to it some.
The Thunder have some of the best post defense in the NBA and Duncan struggled from the field against the Thunder in the regular season and shot just .357 percent against them and averaged 13.3 points.
Durant and Duncan will not be matched up much if at all in this series but keep an eye on how each is playing in comparison to see which team has the upper hand. If either of them has a poor series then that will be devastating for their team.
Duncan has shown to still have the potential for “throwback Duncan” games these playoffs and if he’s throwing up 20-14-5 games then OKC will have a very tough time winning.
Durant is still sort of yet to have that breakout playoff series where he just simply goes off. It may be his time now as the Spurs aren’t totally equipped to make it too difficult for him. If we’re looking at 37-9-5 nights from Durant then the Thunder will not be losing many games, definitely not four.