Last Series for the San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs (67-15; 4-0) began their playoff journey this season with a 4 game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies (42-40; 0-4). The closest the Grizzlies came to the Spurs was a 9-point loss in Game 3. The Spurs average margin of win was 22.5 points. It was mostly a defensive series, as you would expect from these two teams. San Antonio held Memphis to just 81 points per game - including a series low 68 points in Game 2. The Spurs managed to average 103 points per game. Kawhi Leonard was responsible for a little over 20% of the team’s scoring, as he averaged 21.5 points per game. The Spurs had just 3 other players to average double digit scoring during the series against the Grizzlies. LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 14.5 points per game. Patty Mills averaged 10.5 and Kevin Martin averaged exactly 10 points per game. Martin played in just two of the games in the series, however, and averaged just 14.5 minutes. In the Spurs complete domination of the Grizzlies, Zach Randolph and Lance Stephenson were the two highest scoring Grizzlies. The two averaged 13 points per game each.
Serge Ibaka has always played a huge role for the Thunder in playoff series against the Spurs. Ibaka was injured going into the 2014 Western Conference Finals and the Thunder went down 0-2 in the series. Ibaka found a way to miraculously cure a Grade 2 strain of his left calf muscle and fought his way back to the line up. In his Game 3 return, Ibaka scored 15 points (6-7), pulled down 7 rebounds, and blocked 4 shots. The game staved off the threat of a sweep and energized the Thunder team who went on to tie the series 2-2 before ultimately falling 4-2 to the 2014 NBA Champion Spurs. In that series, Ibaka averaged 11.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and 3.3 blocks per game.
This series the Thunder will need Ibaka to take advantage of the Spurs’ aging big men – Tim Duncan, David West, and Boris Diaw – and defend a player who will undoubtedly go down as one of the greats. His interior defense will be key to Thunder success as well. The Thunder will look to Ibaka (and Steven Adams) to alter Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker’s shots in the paint.
The Thunder will need the all-star point guard to show up in a big way this series. The Spurs point guards do not stand a chance of being able to guard Westbrook for an entire game. Oklahoma City will look to Westbrook to take advantage of the opponent while Kawhi Leonard does his best to try to slow down Kevin Durant. Look for Westbrook to absolutely abuse Tony Parker early in games. He will likely take Parker down to the block and try to get some good looks early. It will force the Spurs defense to react and put some early pressure on them.
Dion Waiters & Enes Kanter
The bench combo will be crucial for the Thunder to be successful. If the Dion Waiters of Games 3, 4 and 5 shows up then the Thunder likely win the bench game against the Spurs. However, if Waiters plays like he did in Games 1 and 2 then the Thunder are in trouble. The Thunder needs Waiters to be able to take advantage of Manu Ginobili and win the battle of bench shooting guards.
Kanter is the anchor of the second unit. In four games this season against the Spurs, Kanter averaged 15.8 ppg and 14.8 rpg. The Thunder will desperately need him to keep up that level of play to have a chance in this series. The battle of the interior will go a long way in determining who will ultimately take this series. Look for Kanter to take advantage of smaller defenders from the bench unit. He is bigger, younger, and more active than either David West or Boris Diaw.
Duh. He’s the face of the franchise and seeking to remind everybody that he firmly belongs in the discussion of best players on the planet. This could be a great series for him to make that claim. He will likely spend a good amount of time being guarded by the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. The Thunder needs Durant to wear Leonard down so that Leonard’s offense is affected negatively. It is difficult to guard one of the world’s best and score 20+ points in a game. The Spurs need both aspects of Leonard’s game to beat the Thunder. Durant has improved from game to game this season against the Spurs. He averaged 27 ppg, and 6.7 rpg. The most encouraging thing for Thunder fans is that Durant shot 46.9% from the floor. In each successive game he shot better from the floor and scored more points.
As easy as it is for Thunder fans to dislike the Spurs, it is hard to dislike Leonard. The kid is a beast who excels at both ends of the court. He is the player that every coach wants to fill out his team. On the season he averaged 21.1 ppg, and 6.8 rpg, while also winning the Defensive Player of the Year award. He will be given the looming task of guarding Kevin Durant who will put Leonard through his paces. In
The best chance for this Thunder team to win the series is to go 6 games. The Spurs were great at home this season and a Game 7 in San Antonio would be even more difficult. The Spurs and Thunder split the season 2-2 with both teams winning only on their home courts. The ideal situation is to win this one at home in Oklahoma City in Game 6.
The last two times that the Spurs and Thunder have faced each other in the playoffs the series has gone at least 6 games. This is the first time the two teams have played earlier than the Western Conference Finals and it is the first time the two teams have not been the top two seeds in the conference. It should be a fun series. The Thunder will have to break down one of the historically great defenses, but Oklahoma City has the talent to do it.
Forever and always, Thunder Up!