The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs will begin the most anticipated series of the playoffs Sunday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Thunder and Spurs have both waited nearly a week to get back on the basketball court while the Eastern Conference figured out who would be in their conference finals.
The Spurs are widely considered the favorites to win this series as they have home court, swept the first two rounds of the playoffs and haven’t lost in general since April 11.
The Thunder are not to be overlooked though as they too are playing their best basketball of the season and present plenty of matchup problems for the Spurs. Here at Thunderous Intentions you can see our individual matchup previews of James Harden-Mani Ginobili, Russell Westbrook-Tony Parker and Kevin Durant-Tim Duncan.
The series isn’t only about the big three’s of each team. The Thunder and Spurs are the two best teams in the league right now because they are complete teams.
Here is how the Thunder offense stacks up against the Spurs defense based on their postseason play.
The pick-and-roll game will define this series maybe more than anything else. Both teams run pick-and-roll a ton and do it very well.
Both teams were running pick-and-roll right around 22-23 percent of the time in the regular season and have each upped that percentile to around 28 here in the playoffs which is expected as half court basketball is more prevalent now.
The Thunder get most of their production from their big three while the Spurs are more balance this year.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each have been fantastic in the pick-and-roll so far in the playoffs. Durant has a PPP of 0.98 and Westbrook 0.99.
James Harden, who is normally the Thunder’s best pick-and-roll player, has actually dropped down from a PPP of 1.06 in the regular season to 0.78 in the playoffs. Harden still is a monster in the pick-and-roll and while he may be underperforming in that area in the first two rounds, this matchup with the Spurs should see Harden improve that number.
The Thunder’s ability to be effective in the pick-and-roll is a big deal when playing the Spurs who were 29th in the league in defending the pick-and-roll in the regular season and only two teams have been worse than them at it in the playoffs.
Now the Spurs have also been very good on offense relying on the pick-and-roll but the Thunder have been great at defending it, second-best among playoff teams.
In the regular season, Tony Parker had a lot of success against the Thunder including a 42-point night and became much more of a scorer the way OKC defended him. Westbrook’s defense on Parker and defensive strategy in the pick-and-roll will be interesting to look at early in Game 1.
The Spurs really get a lot of offense from spot-up shooting. Great passing teams like San Antonio that love to find open looks for not any particular player do this.
The Spurs get over 21 percent of their offense from spot-up shooting and that’s how they maximize the production of their role players.
Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and Boris Diaw have all significantly increased their PPP on spot-up shots in the playoffs and that has had a lot to do with how dominant San Antonio was in the first two rounds.
The Thunder aren’t the greatest either at allowing open spot-up looks despite how athletic they are on defense. Oklahoma City has improved their overall defensive intensity in the playoffs and when both teams are bearing down the Thunder should be able to do a good job getting out and contesting on the Spurs’ spot-up shooters.
Discipline on the Thunder’s part will be huge in this series. If they get behind early and are in a sort of panic mode trying to come back in a game the Spurs will feast on them on offense.
This is where everyone is picking the Spurs. They have been there before and we know they are going to come out and execute very well.
The Thunder have the chance to implode, or at least that’s what people think. But the Thunder have come a long way this season and look like a team ready to take yet another step toward a championship this postseason.
Beating this Spurs team is the next step. They have the talent and are looking the part but it won’t be easy. It shouldn’t though and that’s what’s going to make this series so great.