It’s no surprise the Western Conference Finals comes down to the two teams with the best regular season records in the West. What is surprising is the ease with which San Antonio and Oklahoma City dismissed the rest of the competition from these playoffs. The Spurs and Thunder have a combined record of 16-1 in the 2012 NBA Playoffs, and the Spurs winning streak of 18 games dates their last loss over two months ago. Both teams are red-hot, and this series could be a passing of the torch as the aged Spurs look to fend off the youthful Thunder for one last crack at a title. Who will prevail?
How the Spurs can win: Continue to be the most efficient offense in the league. San Antonio ranked first in offensive efficiency this season (Oklahoma City ranked second). The bench of San Antonio will also have to continue to produce the way it has thus far. Manu Ginobli is one of the best scoring 6th men in the league, and mid-season pickups Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw have worked out wonderfully for this club. The Spurs know what they will get nightly from Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, so it will be to the likes of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard that determine whether or not this team advances to the NBA Finals.
How the Thunder can win: Guard the pick-and-roll. Both teams are going to do their fare share of scoring in this series. OKC must play better team defense if they are to unseat the Spurs as kings of the west. Popular thought is that with shot-blocker Serge Ibaka guarding the paint, OKC is feared defensively. But this is not the case. The Thunder only ranked ninth defensively during the regular season. This team is a group of young guys who are just average individual defenders. Russell Westbrook looks lost at times and collectively they struggle when having to rotate defensively. The success OKC will have in this series all depends on defensive adjustments they are able to make both in- game and throughout this series.
Our Prediction: Both teams have coasted through the playoffs. Both have a viable “Big Three.” But the difference in this series will be a) the bench, and b) the defense. San Antonio gets much more out of their reserves than Oklahoma City does. The Thunder rely much more on their Big Three to carry the offensive load, while San Antonio finds production all the way down to their 7 th, 8th, and 9th players. Defensively, OKC is not fine-tuned enough to make proper switches and quick enough rotations to slow down San Antonio. The Spurs took 2-of-3 from the Thunder in the regular season, and all three of those games were without Manu Ginobli. San Antonio has won not only 18 games in a row, but they are 32-3 over their last 35 games and 24-3 in their last 27 games on the road. The Spurs win no matter if the game is played at home, on the road, on the driveway, or in your backyard on the portable eight- foot basketball hoop which your older cousin relentlessly dunks over you on. Gregg Popovich found the fountain of youth for his club. Those analysts who were being critical of “Pop” for resting his aging veterans throughout the regular season don’t have much to say now that his club looks like a favorite to win it all. The Thunder are a force to be reckoned with in the West for years to come, but this Spurs team will be too much to overcome. San Antonio wins in six games and advances to the NBA Finals.
Who do you think will win? Let us know in the comments!