JT: Get ready to see the best basketball of the year. This series could be one for the ages, with arguably the two best teams in the league, both with vastly different identities, going at it. I’m giddy at the prospect. And I love the fact that both sides will get a week to prepare and get right.
On one hand you have a team (OKC) that has an outrageous (and almost unfair) collection of young superstars still not in their prime, but a bona fide contender nonetheless. On the other side you have a team (SAS) that plays picture perfect basketball across the board, boasting several Hall of Famers and a cast of superb role players. So, pick your poison really. An explosive group of young superstars coming into their own, or a veteran-led team that appears to be smarter than everybody? Me, I’m going to stick with my preseason prediction (that OKC would win the title) and go the Thunder.
As good as they are, I just can’t see the Spurs containing Durant, Westbrook and Harden over the course of the series, and I think Ibaka, Perkins and Collison can neutralize the San Antonio front court, as they did the Lakers. The Thunder have too much speed, too much length and just too much talent for the Spurs to hold down. Heck, I reckon they’re just flat-out nasty and short of an epic performance from LeBron in the Finals, I can’t see anyone beating them in a seven-game series this year. Thunder in 6.
Ash: Oh boy. Is this gonna be a series. Until the Heat got the shits put up them after Game 3, the Thunder and the Spurs were the two undisputed best teams of the playoffs. Between them they’ve lost just one game this entire playoff series. When you look at OKC, you can clearly see how the have put a team together in the same manner as the Spurs so effectively did – while they both scored with landing superstars (Duncan in 97, Durant 10 years later) they’ve put the pieces around them you need to create a championship team.
To me, when two very evenly matched playoff teams come together (as the Thunder and Spurs are) the question always is “which team can shut down the other’s offensive strength most effectively?” And here’s the thing about San Antonio. Their offense is so flexible that I don’t know if there is one thing to focus on. They can play the pick and roll, run with anyone, hit jumpers, go to Duncan in the half court…this team can do it all. OKC, on the other hand, are terrific in transition but when forced into the halfcourt they tend to become a jump shooting team. As good as their shooters are you can’t rely on winning four games with jumpers. Because the Spurs can and will force them into that game. San Antonio have the athletes on both ends to prevent the Thunder from getting away with turning every possession into a track meet and taking too much advantage of their superior team athleticism. I’m just not sure that OKC have the same answers for the flexibility of the Spurs.
In terms of mentality, I don’t think there’s much in it. The Thunder may be younger but their core have all been here and done this before. The Spurs may have the rings but the Thunder aren’t crunch time virgins anymore.
When it comes down to it, I’m just not convinced OKC have all the answers to the Spurs’ offensive options to win a seven game series in the same way I think the Spurs canforce the Thunder into missing Js. Spurs in 7.
Robd: This Tweet from Hardwood Paroxysm summed up my thoughts on the OKC-SAS series perfectly: “OKC vs. SAS is going to be an absolutely phenomenal clash of basketball ideology. Superstar ball vs. ultimate shareball.” Why that fascinates me so much, is that for as long as I can remember, the NBA has been a superstar league. You can’t win a championship without a superstar (or 2 or 3), and the team with the best player generally wins. There have been a few exceptions here and there, such as the Pistons in 2004, but even that team featured the league’s best defensive player (by far), and was loaded with three other All-Stars. Some people point to the 1994 Rockets, but don’t forget Olajuwon was the MVP and DPOY that season. You can’t get more superstar than that.
The Spurs this year are devoid of the traditional superstar and have surged thanks to their great offensive balance, the rise of some up and coming role players, and of course the health of their own Big Three (who have rarely been healthy in the postseason over the past 5 years). They’re unlike any team I can think of in the modern era, and that’s one reason before the playoffs started I gave the Spurs absolutely zero change of winning the title.
The other reason, is that the Oklahoma Thunder boast the most dynamic duo in the league (yes Heat fans, I said it), two young guns entering their prime who are now so good that there aren’t actually any players in the league who can match up on them. Think about it. Who can defend Russell Westbrook? Two years ago the Lakers stood off him and let him shoot jumpshots – this year that tactic buried them. How will Tony Parker fare? How will Manu Ginobili fare? Not well is my suggested answer. And you don’t need me to tell you that no one can defend Kevin Durant (and I don’t think the Spurs can defend him as well as Artest did).
The Spurs will no doubt try to make the Thunder a jump-shooting team and force Durant and Westbrook to play iso, but there aren’t any two other guys I’d rather have playing iso’s than KD and Russell. Most championship teams have one player like that (Kobe, Pierce, Dirk) – the Thunder unfairly have two.
I hate to make it all about two players. I know it sounds too simplistic and ignorant, and I could write another 1000 words breaking down this series. But in short, I’m betting on the superstar theory. The Thunder have the best two players on the court, and three of the best four. The Spurs are the better team 5 through 10, and have a few more tricks up their sleeves, but that doesn’t always guarantee success in the post-season. When the games is tight, the Thunder know who to get the ball to, while the Spurs will go with what feels right at the time. I’ve watched a lot of basketball in my life, and it’s the former, not the latter, that always seems to win out. I’m not just betting on the Thunder. I’m betting on history. Thunder in 6.