Welcome to the Western Conference Finals. This is where the game begins. For most, it already ended, and for others, it began in round one. For the Spurs, the game begins now. This is the first series in which the Spurs will be tested. It's a little stressful, I know. Will the Spurs be ready to play at the required level after two seemingly easy sweeps and perhaps too much time off? I believe that while they will be rusty, they will win Game 1 with unexpected ease.
Below are the variances between the Spurs' regular season advanced stats and their playoff advanced stats, via basketballreference.com. So Tim Duncan's positive variance of 3.8 means that his PER is 3.8 better in the playoffs than it was in the regular season. Similarly, Manu's negative 8.4 variance means that his playoff PER has dropped 8.4 points from his regular season average, ouch. Please take a minute to study the numbers below.
Look at these objectively; forget that you know we swept our first two opponents. Three months ago, if I told you that round two of the 2012 NBA playoffs was over and presented these variances to you, what would you have thought? If I gave you these variances and asked you to guess the Spurs' current circumstance, you would NEVER have guessed the Spurs were 8-0.
Look at Manu's line! Given these variances, my guess would have been that the Spurs were knocked out in round two and Manu sustained an injury along the way. Manu has been worse in the playoffs in every category even though his minutes per game increased by 3.
This is good news. The Spurs have not yet touched their potential. THE SPURS ARE BETTER THAN THEY HAVE PLAYED. They are 8-0, cruising through the playoffs, and have not played their A game. We are witnessing something historic. This team is a historic outlier. Sit back and enjoy this ride. It doesn't come often. It may never happen again.
Two other quick takeaways from the variances above: Gary Neal is not as bad as you think and Matt Bonner's pattern has continued. Gary is on fire. He needs to take a heat check right now. My man is shooting 57% FG, 50% 3P, and 86% from the line. While watching him bring up the ball is as painful as watching Dennis Rodman take a three pointer, Gary is potent once the ball has advanced. (Remember Dennis taking three pointers for the Spurs? The worst part about it was that you could watch his thought process take place. He'd catch the ball and obviously be wide open at the top of the key. He'd wait for the defender that was never going to come. He then would take a look around, to his left and right. "Both guys are covered? I think I'm going to launch this one." If you think Matt Bonner's TREYbuchet is painful, you should have watched this take place in 1994. It was torture.)
Unfortunately, we could really use Matt Bonner in this series. OKC loves to play Perkins and Ibaka at the same time. They can only get away with that if Pop allows them by playing two big men that they can guard. Bonner could throw a wrench into their game plan. It's not going to happen, because the Spurs are going to win this series easily. But if the Spurs were outmatched, a nice chess move would be to start Matt Bonner. Neither Ibaka nor Perkins is mobile enough to guard Matt Bonner at the three point line and still clog the paint. In fact, OKC's other two big men, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed, are also incapable of defending Bonner. Okay, Winter Shoes, this is your chance. OKC is the perfect matchup for you to exploit. If Bonner finds his shot, this series will be a quick one.
Before the playoffs began, I wrote why I thought we'd beat every team in the West. Here is what I wrote about OKC:
"Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard were put on this Earth to give Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant problems. If tasked with designing the perfect defender for Westbrook, you would want someone that anticipates, is long yet quick, and isn't afraid of scrapping. You would want someone that has a chip on their shoulder, maybe because they were cut from one of the worst teams in the league. You'd design Danny Green. For Durant, you want someone tall enough to bother his shot, yet low enough to take away his drive. This player has to be strong to deter post-ups, and long enough to poke at the ball. Kawhi and Danny are the best tandem the NBA has to throw at OKC. Both are defensive oriented and masters of the art of anticipation. Either can guard James Harden."
We are a matchup nightmare for OKC, offensively and defensively. As I wrote, Kawhi and Danny are as good as you can do defensively. In addition, we can throw crazy Stephen Jackson at them to give them a change of sanity. OKC's bigs are useless on the offensive end. Tim and Diaw will be allowed to roam the paint and focus on OKC's only three scorers, Durant, Westbrook, and Harden.
This is going to be a tough series for OKC. They will have to become a drive and kick team if they want to stay close, but they do not have the personnel to execute this. They will need to attack the rim like they haven't all year. If they attempt to beat us with outside jumpers, they will get destroyed. Funny enough, OKC will need to slow the pace of the game down. They need to keep the games in the short 100 range to have a chance. The young, athletic Thunder need to slow the pace down so that the old, veteran Spurs do not run them out of the building! How crazy is that?
OKC's defense will be exploited this series. Durant is not a defender. OKC realized this and that's why they have Perkins and Ibaka behind him. But here's the thing about the Spurs. They always have five offensively oriented players on the floor. You cannot guard them playing 5 on 4 basketball. It's impossible. It's difficult enough to guard them playing 5 on 5. The Spurs are too good at penetrating the defense and forcing help defenders to commit. If you give the Spurs an opportunity, they are going to get a high percentage shot at the rim or a wide open three pointer. Over 48 minutes, teams simply cannot keep up.
Pay attention to the quality of the shots the Spurs and Thunder get. Just study the first quarter this Sunday. If both teams continue to play as they have all season, the Spurs will get superior looks to the Thunder. That's all you need to know. The Spurs will get better looks and over a 7 game series, OKC will need 56 perfect bounces in order to beat them. Basically, the Spurs have Pocket Rockets and OKC just called with KQ suited. If you play this out 1,000 times, the Spurs win 82% of the time.
I cannot express how excited I am for this game. I took Monday off. I never take days off. I took Monday off so that I could fully enjoy this game. I eliminated everything that could take away from Sunday. Sit back and relax, friends. This is going to be epic. Go Spurs.
Game Prediction: The Spurs will win by 17 points. At some point, the Spurs' offensive tidal wave will decimate OKC. The question is 'when,' not 'if.' I think it will hit in the 3rd quarter.
As always, Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.