The Oklahoma City Thunder is a great, young talented team with three of the league's most dynamic scorers in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They have the league's best shot blocker in Serge Ibaka and the league's top scorer in Durant. They also have a veteran championship presence with Derek Fisher, Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed. So far in the playoffs, they've defeated two talented teams in the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers. BUT, those two teams proved to be inadequate in their challenge of the Thunder due to their lack of playmakers and their limited offensive attack: two problems that the San Antonio Spurs simply to not suffer from.
Bottom line: the Spurs will defeat the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals because the Spurs have too many threats on the offensive side of the ball, and the Thunder have no answer for Tim Duncan.
Where Dallas and L.A. failed
The Mavericks and the Lakers were too often one-dimensional (sometimes branching out into the second dimension) and far too limited offensively. Dirk said himself, "We need guys who can make plays." Against the Thunder, the Mavericks proved inadequate in their ability to threaten the Thunder from multiple sources.
In the Dallas series, the Thunder had a few close calls. In game one of the series, Dallas showed a propensity to distribute the ball evenly. This resulted in a loss, but only by one point. In game two, Dallas kept the same strategy and again a loss but by only three points. In that game, OKC had eight players score in the first quarter to put them up by eight. Game three, Dallas came out with a balanced attack and had seven players score in the first quarter but Durant went off for fifteen points and took over the quarter. Dallas returned to the second quarter but only had three players score and basically flamed out the rest of the game. Game four saw the Mavericks lead a balanced attack for three quarters and a great run in the third with seven players scoring a total of 34 points. In the fourth, it was different story as only four players scored and the Mavericks' -19 point differential for the fourth lost the game.
The Lakers could certainly have won this series. Had LA focused on working the ball into the post with their bigs, they could have won four out of five or six games, because the Thunder never showed the ability to stop a motivated Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Problem is that it's difficult to ask your center to keep fighting for inside position when he's ignored possession after possession. Too often, what began as a game with all five players involved in the first half, turned into nothing more than the Kobe Bryant show in the second half.
The Lakers fall from a balanced offense to singular threat is the biggest issue that held the Lakers back from victory. Why Brown did not alter this strategy after the first two games is beyond me. I hardly count myself as more than half-way educated when it comes to the game of basketball, but even I could see that Bryant was squandering the Lakers' chances when the offense was distracted from what's universally accepted as their one advantage (their elite big men) and instead allowed Kobe to hoist contested jumpers.
-15, -12, -10 | These are the three worst point differential quarters for the Lakers. Kobe's combined shot attempt total for those three quarters is 30. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined for a total of 6 field goal attempts in those same quarters. Kobe Bryant shot the ball five times as much as his big men and that is the biggest reason for each and every time the bottom fell out of the Lakers' offense.
+8, +6, +5 | These are the three best point differential quarters for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant's combined shot total for those three quarters is 18. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined for a total of 25 shots. When the Lakers presented a balanced attack that included their big men, they won. Not by much, and with scads of free throws tossed in for good measure, but they did win.
How San Antonio is different
Aside from the Spurs, OKC is the best looking team in the league. While Miami and Boston are looking more challenged by the day, once again it's another squad in the west represents the biggest threat to San Antonio's pursuit of another Larry O'Brien trophy. Yet, unfortunately for this young squad and their fans, it is a juggernaut that's cruising on an intersecting course with them. Let's take a look at what happened when these teams met earlier this year.
Game one of the regular season series between the two is not even worth looking at as San Antonio's roster was not close to what it is now. T.J. Ford was still playing back up point guard, DeJuan Blair was the starting center, Richard Jefferson was the starting wing, James Anderson played 17 minutes and some guy named Ike Diogu was getting playing time. On to games two and three.
The personnel for the secon game was a little closer to the current Spurs team with T.J. Ford and Ike Diogu already gone and James Anderson regulated to nothing except severe garbage time, although San Antonio did still have DeJuan Blair and Richard Jefferson starting. The Spurs game out with a multi-front attack as six players scored, led by Kawhi Leonard's 10 points. The point differential was + 4. In the 2nd Quarter, the Spurs had eight players score with Tony Parker leading the way with 10; the point differential was + 6. The 3rd quarter opened up with Tony lambasting the Thunder with 16 points and the Spurs again had six scorers and a point differential + 8. By the fourth quarter, the game was over and Pop handed out garbage time minutes. Tony led all scorers with 42 and nine Spurs scored. Due to the Spurs sharing the ball and attacking with multiple threats the Thunder went down in a lopsided game. Tim Duncan was a monster on the boards, gobbling up 15 and scoring 13 points. The Thunder's interior was nearly nonexistent and had no answer for the spry Duncan.
Game three opened with the Spurs in their current modus operandi: Tony slashing to the basket and scoring while getting the wings and posts great looks at the basket. Five Spurs scored and the point differential was +11. 2nd quarter: seven Spurs scored, point differential = +6, and + 17 for the half. 3rd Quarter saw seven Spurs score but Russell Westbrook was really aggressive and got to the charity stripe five times. Point differential - 4. In the 4th quarter, the Spurs stopped working the ball around and only had four players score, but Coach Brooks called it quits and sat three of his starters. Game over. Tim Duncan finished with 19 rebounds and 16 points.
With this kind of performance added to the way the Spurs have been playing during their current winning streak, odds are that the Spurs can and will defeat the Thunder in a seven game series. Their keys are distributing the ball, getting as many players to score as possible, Tim Duncan controlling the boards and keeping the Thunder off the charity stripe.
Spurs in 6.