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Game 1 Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Spurs begin their second-round matchup against familiar foe Oklahoma City, led by two stars who (probably) don't care whether or not you've considered them contenders up until now.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
Date: 4/30/16, Time: 7:30 PM Spurs Time

Brazed under the unrelenting media spotlight, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant appear to have embraced the role of league iconoclasts this year. They're no longer the symbol of the NBA's youth movement but rather a two-man Bill Hicks act, simultaneously lampooning and captivating the peanut gallery that continues to doubt them.

Since peaking in their Finals run four years ago, the Thunder have been at the center of various narratives regarding the ineptitude of their coaches, their stars' intentions to change teams, and their inability to contend together. For a while KD and Russ seemed to mind -- and still at times the repetitive and speculative nature of journalists can get the best of them -- but you can sense a more natural self-assurance against each affront, regardless of where it comes from.

In their first-round matchup against OKC, the Mavericks knew they were out-gunned, even with Rick Carlisle regularly turning everyday-normal Gatorade into Michael's Secret Stuff. It made some sense, then, to hear that Mark Cuban was questioning Westbrook's superstar status or that Charlie Villanueva and J.J. Barea mixed things up with him. Plus, there was this pre-game exchange.

OKC's primary response came on the court, with a convincing 4-1 elimination of the Mavs, powered in Game 5 by Westbrook's 36 points, 12 boards and nine dimes and tainted somewhat by plays like this, but Durant and Westbrook put the series to bed in a post-game press conference that demonstrated their usual combination of cynicism and bravado. Durant's objections to Cuban's comments are a little funny since he's been similarly dismissive of Kawhi Leonard, consistently leaning on the Spurs' player-friendly 'system' when asked about him.

The Thunder have never lacked punch. Between Westbrook's beautiful violence and Durant's swan-like grace, the foundation for an elite offense has always been in place. It's what precedes and follows that 1-2 combination that has led to doubts surrounding their real chances to contend.

With those two as catalysts, the remaining three starters know their roles well: Steven Adams will set hard screens and dive towards the rim, armed with a surprisingly soft touch on a floater if he doesn't simply finish off the alley; Serge Ibaka will feel out the 17-23-feet range and exploit his open looks; Andre Roberson will feast along the baselines, look for backdoor cuts and take the open corner three. It's a system that allows for the odd wrinkle which, combined with the ability to make big shots, can be lethal.

When Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters replace Adams and Roberson, OKC can elevate their offense to a new level. If Billy Donovan can get consistent contributions from those two in this series, the Spurs will have their work cut out for them, and that lineup's shortcomings on the other end of the floor may not even matter that much.

But count me among those who doubt Waiters' ability to play within himself against a defense like San Antonio's that will gladly exploit his tendency to take ill-advised shots. As for Kanter, I'm worried about his skillset in the half-court as well as his ability to run with Durant and Westbrook in transition, which he did plenty against Dallas. But the Spurs can counter him with a combination of David West and Boris Diaw that should be able to keep his offense in check and expose his limitations on the other end. Just don't get killed too badly on the boards, please.

The season series between OKC and SA finished at two a piece, although only the first couple had both teams at full strength. I keep going back to the Spurs' 93-85 win in March (AKA the 'Let 'em Fly' game) as the best benchmark, since the only other serious one was the season-opener when Aldridge (11 points on 4 of 12 shooting) was still wet around the ears.

Here are a few notes from that win (which was, to be fair, a SEGABABA for OKC): Most Spurs not named LaMarcus and Kawhi were ice cold until the game's final moments; OKC handily won the rebound battle; the Spurs clamped down on Westbrook (5 for 16 shooting, nine turnovers) and Durant (28 points on 25 shots), and they closed the game with hot-hand David West in over Tim Duncan, which worked out pretty well:

I have a feeling tonight will resemble that game more than any other -- a relatively low-scoring affair with the Thunder outrebounding San Antonio, Kawhi and Danny splitting time harassing Durant all night, and the rest of the defense nagging and sucking in enough to make Westbrook occasionally think twice.

Most importantly, I think it'll end with another Spurs win.

Key to winning: I think we have an idea what we'll get out of Kawhi, Danny and LaMarcus against OKC. That leaves, somewhat surprisingly, the OG Big Three as the bigger question marks. Tim Duncan's rebounding and defense, including his peerless ability to slide over and help against Thunder slashers, will be key, as will Tony's playmaking and intermittent D against Russ. The production coming from him and Manu could be what put San Antonio over the top in Game 1 and overall in this series.


San Antonio Spurs

(Playoffs record: 4-0)

Oklahoma City Thunder

(Playoffs record: 4-1)

April 30, 2016

AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

7:30 PM CDT



Tony Parker


Russell Westbrook

Danny Green


Andre Roberson

Kawhi Leonard


Kevin Durant

LaMarcus Aldridge


Serge Ibaka

Tim Duncan


Steven Adams

Game prediction: Spurs by 7.

For the Thunder fans' perspective, visit Welcome to Loud City.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.

As always, PtR's Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. But if you're not able to log in here, you can try the Fanvana app which helps connect sports fans and was created by a fellow Spurs fan. Check out the free app on iOS or Android to discover other Spurs fans and join the live chatter for tonight's game. You can follow PtR's tweet stream directly on Fanvana as the game unfolds.