Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs - Western Conference Finals

#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #2 Oklahoma City Thunder

The Spurs received all they could handle from the Dallas Mavericks in the First Round and then barely had to break a sweat to dispatch the Portland Trail Blazers in five games. The Thunder didn't have quite as easy a road. Like the Spurs, they were taken to seven games in their First Round series, but although they only had to play one more game in the Conference Semi-Finals, each game with the Los Angeles Clippers was a grind. Then the news got worse for Oklahoma City as it was learned that Serge Ibaka will miss the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury. For whatever reason, the Spurs are skeptical that Ibaka really isn't available but all signs point to Ibaka not playing in this series.

The Spurs had an injury scare of their own against Portland in their Game 5 win as Tony Parker had to leave the game early with an injury. However, the time off between series has given Parker time to heal and he should be 100 percent for the Conference Finals. He is the Spurs leading scorer, facilitator and best player. He will matchup against Russell Westbrook of the Thunder. It will be Parker's task to limit Westbrook's scoring opportunities and try to force Kevin Durant to shoulder the scoring load for OKC. Danny Green starts at shooting guard but Manu Ginobli usually gets more playing time than Green off the bench. Thabo Sefalosha doesn't contribute much on offense for the Thunder but he is one of their best defenders and with Ibaka out, even more pressure will be on him to perform well defensively. Kawhi Leonard has the unenviable task of trying to slow down Durant. Durant played superbly against the Spurs in the regular season and is a major reason why the Thunder swept all four games against the Spurs. Durant has struggled with his shot at times this postseason but ever since being challenged by the local media in OKC, he has been nearly unstoppable and put the Thunder on his back in the series against the Clippers. With Ibaka out for the series that means that veteran Nick Collison will see much more playing time. I also expect Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins to perhaps play at the same time to try to match up with the size of Tim Duncan and Thiago Splitter. Adams, Perkins and Collison are all very limited offensively but one of them will have to step up and replace Ibaka's 12 points per game in these playoffs.

Caron Butler, Reggie Jackson, and Derek Fisher will see the most time off the bench for Oklahoma City. Jackson has turned into a reliable bench player, and the Thunder don't see a lot of drop off when he is on the floor. For the Spurs, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli will see a good amount of time coming off the bench. Diaw is another big man at the Spurs disposal and also another Spurs big man with better offensive skills than the Thunder's big men.

Unless you're a Spurs fan, you have to feel for the Thunder. For the second straight season they have lost a key contributor in the playoffs. They couldn't overcome the loss of Westbrook last season and without Ibaka in this series, I don't think they will be able to get past the Spurs. Ibaka is mostly known for his shot blocking presence and defense, but his offense will be missed as well. Unless someone from the Thunder like a Collison, Adams, or Perkins can find some offense, I think too much pressure will be on Durant and Westbrook's shoulders in this series to score the ball. The Spurs are playing with a ton of confidence right now and they smell blood with the Thunder hurting. Defense will be the difference in this series, as the Spurs defensive prowess will overcome the scoring power of OKC.

Prediction: Spurs over Thunder, 4-2

No comments: