The Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t had a great deal of luck in the playoffs of late. They lost the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat in 2012 and last year they lost in the second round to the Memphis Grizzlies after a playoff ending knee injury to Russell Westbrook in the first round.
In a case of history repeating, the Thunder have made the Western Conference Finals – against a familiar foe, the San Antonio Spurs, but now have to deal with the season ending injury to Serge Ibaka.
Although the Thunder have proven they can overcome adversity, achieving the second seed in the Western Conference and the second best record in the NBA while missing Westbrook for a large portion of the season, they now face a very real and very tough challenge to prolong their season and make it back to the NBA Finals.
A lot can be said about Kevin Durant – the leagues MVP and Russell Westbrook who appears to be in career best form, but Serge Ibaka was and is, and integral part of the Thunder lineup. While OKC will have to look to their depth and the bench for some production, it remains to be seen whether the Thunder can actually replace what Ibaka provides.
You can read some terrific viewpoints and opinions on the series and the Thunder as a whole by visiting the homepage. We have a “Five on Five” which addresses the key questions for OKC, and we also look at who might step up in Ibaka’s absence while also previewing the Western Conference Finals matchup. Make sure you get to know Steven Adams too – he might be pivotal in this series.
While the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to sweep the San Antonio Spurs during the regular season, the playoffs are a whole new ball game. Add in the fact that the Spurs were missing key personnel during these matchups and now the Thunder are without a key piece and the Western Conference Finals are anyone’s game. It would be a brave man to write off either team based on form and talent.
If OKC want to get back to a level playing field, they need to grab Game 1. Not only will this give the young Thunder group some confidence, it will also give them a fighting chance at winning the series. A road win reassures the away team while sending a message and some anxiety to the home squad.
In the true style of taking it one game at a time, I am not even looking at the series as a whole, but rather just the first game. San Antonio Spurs hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder are going to need to do a couple of things very well to grab the game and the series advantage. Without Ibaka, they are going to have to adjust to their new lineup (whatever it may look like) very quickly. Everyone will need to know and embrace their role and perform it 100% if the Thunder are to cause the upset. They must also keep Tony Parker out of the paint and away from the basket. Serge usually protects the rim and has the quickness and athleticism to negate Parker’s pace – but we all know he won’t be out there.
OKC also need to find a way to space the floor. Serge is terrific as a mid range and corner three point jump shooter. Spacing the floor allows Durant and Westbrook a little more freedom and allows them to get inside and to the bucket (and foul line). Someone is going to need to be a consistent outside scoring threat – here’s looking at you Perry Jones III, Nick Collison and Caron Butler.
Bring the energy. The Thunder are notoriously slow starters, but if you give a window like that the the Spurs, they can bury you in 12 minutes. They also go on “scoring runs” during the second half of the quarters so the reserve unit of OKC need to be ready for it and keep the pressure and intensity up.
There is no doubt that without Ibaka, many have already written off the Thunder. Take Game 1 though, and you might see some people change their tune.