Apr 3, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) blocks a shot attempt by San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) during the third quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Thunder vs Spurs Matchup Preview

Tomorrow night the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs clash for the second time in 3 years in the Western Conference Finals. This time around things are much different. The Thunder won that series two years ago 4 games to 2. That time they had both James Harden and Serge Ibaka. Now they are out both. James Harden is in Houston and Ibaka is sidelined with an injury this time around.  Then again, the results show a different side of the story. The Thunder having won 10 of the last 12 meetings, seem to know something about these Spurs. They also passed along their knowledge to Reggie Jackson, aka ‘Spurs killer’. In the 4 games vs the Spurs this season, Reggie is averaging 21.3 ppg on 67.9% shooting, 4.5 apg, and 31.3 mpg. Brooks has his adjustment there, give the ball to Reggie and see what happens. Even without our basket bodyguard, the Spurs seem to have their own trouble with OKC they haven’t figured out. The question is will the Spurs take the averages and tilt them too much in their favor without Ibaka on the floor before the Thunder have a chance to recover? Let’s take a look:

Point Guards: Russell Westbrook vs Tony Parker

Looking only at the averages, Russell has the edge statistically. Tony Parker this postseason has been performing admirably. He has recently sustained a hamstring injury which caused him to leave Wednesday’s game vs Portland after only 10 minutes and before scoring a point. He is the head of the San Antonio snake and if he is dealt a blow that limits his floor time, even without Ibaka, that’s a smile for OKC. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express News reports that Parker is limited in practice but hopes of playing in Game 1. The interesting thing here is that these two point guards don’t guard each other the entire game. Thabo will likely get the assignment on Parker while Danny Green will likely draw the short straw to guard Westbrook. It will come down to how healthy Parker is and how good Russell’s decision making will be. A healthy Westbrook, coming off of a 19 and 12 night bodes well for the Thunder. Averaging more assists than turnovers in all but one game in the series against the Clippers while dropping in 27.8 points is painting quite the clear picture. Even if he plays healthy or not, it looks like this one is well in hand for Russell to attack and keep attacking.

Advantage: Oklahoma City

Shooting Guards: Thabo Sefolosha vs Danny Green

The offensive side of things isn’t close, Danny Green is a better offensive player than Thabo. Yet, add the phrase when he’s feeling it shooting-wise to that previous statement and now things are closer than they appear. Green is a shooter and his game depends entirely on jump shots. He does not attack the rim and create for himself outside of the occasional shot clock running down situation. If he is not on, he is not on. Listen to his last 5 games: 0-3, 3-7, 2-7, 4-11, 9-13. Whether its gaining confidence against the opponent or granted more playing time by Pop, Danny Green isn’t exactly explosive. However, the Thunder have the tendency to allow a player to have a career night here and there, and Danny Green’s shooting ability also affords him the chance to be that guy. Now onto to Thabo. Thabo, Thabo, Thabo… Talking about his offense will not consist of more than when he cuts to basket he scores. His shot comes and goes, and recently it has gone more frequently. His defense gets him opportunities but most often that’s only a few times a game. Thabo can hit shots though. He went 6-9 in game 2 vs the Clippers but never got over 8 points again in the series. Except, the Thunder do not have him in there to fill up the scoring column. His assignment will be Tony Parker. An injured Parker could see himself taking a lot more jump shots because of his possible lack of first step. That is exactly what Thabo wants, as well as OKC. Make Parker a jump shooter and instantly they are a one shot down type of team. Based on the injury to Parker and more Thabo back cuts, I am leaning in favor of the man from the Swiss.

Advantage: Oklahoma City

Small Forwards: Kevin Durant vs Kawhi Leonard

The MVP versus any teams best defender and really it’s kind of insulting to say Durant won’t get the best of that matchup. KD’s length and ability to get a shot over any defender, makes this matchup seem unfair. KD averaged 29.2 points against the outplaying-his-ability Tony Allen, so what’s to say that Leonard will fair any better? Well, he may not be as pesky as Allen, but Leonard has done his due diligence.  During the regular season he forced KD below his averages in points and assists. Kevin made up for his small decline by out rebounding himself, but still bravo to the man that “slowed” the MVP. Then again it is never just one man on KD. NEVER. It is the team, and the Spurs do that to any team’s best player. With Ibaka out, Kevin and company lose a player that helped space the floor with a threating jump shot. So OKC’s small ball vs the Spurs will have to do some heavy lifting. Insert a big, then add Russ, Reggie, Butler, and Durant. That’s enough to pull the remaining hair out of any NBA coach’s head. Kawhi can score, but it won’t the story here. All things point to the MVP.

Advantage: Oklahoma City

Power Forwards: (Insert Scott Brooks decision) vs Tim Duncan

Similar to KD, it doesn’t matter who is defending Duncan because he will still get his. His averages are never otherworldly, but that isn’t his game. He is built to always put pressure on a defense with his shot and finishing ability around the rim. He will rebound well with his 6’11” build and he is always unselfish. With Parker laboring, Duncan will most likely assert himself as a go-to scorer even if he isn’t going to blow your mind. The 16 year pro will dazzle only the most fundamental of minds with that bank shot. The bank is still getting the job done even today, who knew? Scott Brooks will throw who he can at him. Most likely it’ll be Collison and KD sharing the load to guard Timmy. The Spurs offense, however, will always get them points. They attack and attack and attack and… it never fails. The Thunder have to be disciplined as a team defensively, but in regards to this matchup its all elder Duncan.

Advantage: San Antonio

Center: Kendrick Perkins vs Tiago Splitter

The amazing thing is that these two guys are starters for NBA teams. How? Well Kendrick is here because he is the communicator defensively. Tiago is here because Pop says so. Neither of these guys deal in numbers. They do as their teams need. Kendrick barking commands and screens on his end while Tiago is getting rebounds and finishing around the basket. Neither block that many shots, or take that many shots. Stats favor Tiago, but importance favors Perkins. Both teams can survive without these players, but their role right now is exactly what they need to be.

Advantage: This one is a wash

Bench: Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Perry Jones/Jeremy Lamb (Hopeful?), and Steven Adams vs Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, and other

A majority of the Spurs points come from the second unit. Their starters average just over half of their total point usually, but the bench comes in a provides a lift more often than they drop the ball. However, the game today is never about which player scores the most. Its about who takes advantage of their matchup. Considering that Fisher made that cool shot once with 0.4 seconds left, Reggie has been straight killing the Spurs, and Butler will spread the floor it looks like the Thunder take the cake. Then again, Parker will be limited and the Thunder are due for a career night from somebody they play. I believe not only will the Spurs bench outscore but will outplay the Thunder’s but only by a little. A lot of times, the “bench” is defined by teams’ sixth man. So in that case, I say the Thunder win more than they lose. However, as a whole I feel the averages tip in favor of the Spurs.

Advantage: San Antonio

Coaching: Scott Brooks vs Greg Popovich

Scotty vs Pop. Neither is that exciting of an interview nor do they dwell much in voice inflections. However, over the last few years these two are the top dogs of the Western Conference. When Scott Brooks has his lineup, the Thunder are a great team. They adjust well enough to pull out close victory’s and they are gelled enough to have made it to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in 3 years. Brooks has overcome the Harden trade, Russell injuries/surgeries, and now has to overcome Serge Ibaka’s calf injury. Popovich on the other hand can coach my junior varsity to heights I couldn’t even imagine. He is, to me, the greatest coach in the NBA. To still have his teams be as successful as they are and do it without all the media attention they deserve, is amazing to witness. Both teams come in with ailments, and it will come down how each coach handles the rotations. Who will be first to assert themselves in this series? Both are very successful, but experience and results favor father time.

Advantage: San Antonio

Prediction

The Thunder are considered the underdog yet again, and that’s a role they seem to enjoy. Their killer mentality comes out when they are against the ropes way more often than when they are the driver. It will be tough without Serge, but if the Spurs lose Tony it will hurt more. Defensive focus will be heard a lot over the coming days and I believe OKC has the tools to overcome their hurdles than San Antonio.

Oklahoma City in 7.

Tags: Kevin Durant Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook

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