San Antonio Spurs-Oklahoma City Thunder Series is Rare Historical Event
The San Antonio Spurs became the twelfth team in NBA history to start the playoffs 8-0 with a 102-99 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. In fact, the Spurs haven’t lost since April 11, totaling 18 straight wins and 28 of their last 30. Suddenly, San Antonio has changed from a forgotten dynasty to the 2012 title favorites.
That was, until the Oklahoma City Thunder dismantled the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. You see, the Thunder has only lost one game in these playoffs, defeating the past two NBA champions in nine total contests. First OKC swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in resounding fashion and then made the Lakers look like a .500 team that barely made the playoffs.
No one is really talking about this series yet, but they will be. It’s like the calm before the storm; the world is sitting still and quiet waiting for a clash of the titans.
Indeed, the league’s two best teams (the Miami Heat is no longer in contention without Chris Bosh) will play each other before the NBA Finals and the Spurs-Thunder series will deliver every bit of excitement hoped for by basketball fans everywhere. It’s the Old West against the New, the elder dynasty enjoying its last hoorah and the younger still on its way up.
This is a series many thought would never happen, but it is and it may never be seen again. Spurs forward/center Tim Duncan is playing fewer minutes than he ever has, but he’s putting up big numbers during that limited time on the floor while point guard Tony Parker is slowly taking over as the face of the franchise. The way Duncan is playing suggests he senses the end of the road and is making one final push for a thumb ring, which would delight Spurs fans and everyone who wants to see the Heat lose.
That means we better savor every second of this series because it’s one that many sports analysts and hypothetical columnists covet in their make-believe pieces. Rarely does a dynasty of one generation play another of a different era, but it’s about to happen right before our eyes, so hopefully we don’t blink because we might miss history unfolding.
The Spurs still have “the big three” in Duncan, Parker and shooting guard Manu Ginobili. Although two of these three have seen their best days already, Parker is still in his prime. If Duncan continues his high level of play and Ginobili can rekindle some postseason magic from the past, these old Spurs might just teach the young Thunder a thing or two.
However, San Antonio has to deal with Thunder superstar small forward Kevin Durant along with his collection of extremely young-but-talented teammates. San Antonio will rely on savvy veteran defender Boris Diaw to try and slow Durant from time to time (stopping him is impossible) while San Antonio’s new faces and young guns try to match Oklahoma City’s. Here’s a quick preview:
The Spurs are 12-5 against Durant and 8-2 in the last three seasons. Six of the previous 11 teams to start the postseason 8-0 have gone on to win the title. The last was the Lakers in 2001.
Point guard: Tony Parker vs. Russell Westbrook
At first, this seems like a toss-up, but there’s a distinct advantage for the elder Parker here. While both players are lightning quick and superb ball handlers, Westbrook has a habit of being trigger-happy at times and he still hasn’t figured out how to carry his team without scoring in critical moments. Parker is arguably the best finisher in the game and his championship experience gives him a slight edge here.
Shooting guard: Danny Green vs. Thabo Sefolosha
Green has won several games this year for the Spurs by himself. He knows how to score, but he’s streaky, mainly because he’s on a team with so many decorated veterans. Sefolosha is anything but a typical shooting guard; he plays solid defense and doesn’t score much. Green will have his moments in this series and he’ll even win a game for the Spurs, but this is an even match overall.
Small forward: Kevin Durant vs. Boris Diaw
While Diaw is technically the power forward for the Spurs, he’ll be matched up against Durant for the majority of the series. Diaw is no Bruce Bowen, but he’s the Spurs’ top defender, so he gets the burden/challenge of guarding Durant mostly in one-on-one situations. If Diaw can keep Durant’s touches to less than 50 percent of the Thunder’s possessions, the Spurs will win this series. However, that’s much easier said than done.
Power forward: Kawhi Leonard vs. Serge Ibaka
The few times Diaw isn’t on Durant, it’ll be the rookie Leonard’s job to try and slow down the league’s best player. The rest of the time, Leonard and Ibaka will battle it out around the edge of the paint. A finalist for the Rookie of the Year award, Leonard plays beyond his age, which is largely due to the fact he’s in San Antonio. However, Ibaka is playing out of his mind this year and he’ll hold Leonard at bay on the offensive end. His experience gives him the edge.
Center: Tim Duncan vs. Kendrick Perkins
Trading for Perkins was arguably the greatest move by this organization since it drafted Durant, but he’s outmatched in this series. As mentioned, Duncan is playing like a man on a mission and he’s a much better center than Perkins, anyway. That’s not to say Perkins is a bad player; he plays with more grit and determination than most players in the league, but that’s not enough against an incredibly mentally tough and fundamentally sound player like Duncan.
Sixth man: Manu Ginobili vs. James Harden
The 2012 Sixth Man of the Year would be a starter on any other team in the NBA and that’s not because the Thunder’s starting five is too good for Harden. Oklahoma City has a system it’s perfected this season with Harden coming off the bench and providing a spark for his team after the new of each game has worn off. Sound familiar? That’s been Ginobili’s role for the Spurs since his rookie season in 2003, in which San Antonio won the first of three titles with the Argentine on the roster. However, Harden is playing much better than any other third-year player in the league and he’s a little bit swifter than his older counterpart.
Coach: Gregg Popovich vs. Scott Brooks
This is no contest. Popovich is considered one of the greatest coaches of all time and he’ll easily out-coach Thunder fourth-year skipper Brooks. That’s not to say Brooks isn’t a solid coach; he’s a key reason why the Thunder is so good with such a young squad. However, if it comes down to coaching, Popovich will prevail in what will probably be the last hoorah for this generation of Spurs.
So after all that, we’re right back where we started from. Now it’s just time to sit back and watch a rare piece of history unfold right in front of us. Remember, don’t blink.