The San Antonio Spurs are getting ready for a tougher test than they have had through the seasons first two weeks when the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the AT&T Center on Saturday for the Western Conference Finals’ Game 1. The Spurs come in having won 18 straight games, including sweeps of the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers. Oklahoma City comes in having just defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1, and the Dallas Mavericks 4-0.
Out with the old and in with the new, right? I wouldn’t say so fast. The Spurs vs Thunder matchup is an intriguing one, and not so much favorited towards the Thunder as people would expect. The Spurs have a pretty good matchup, and won two of the three meetings this year.
Tony Parker vs Russell Westbrook
I can’t say that either player has an advantage here for either team. Parker has shouldered the scoring load for the Spurs, while Westbrook is the wingman to Kevin Durant. Westbrook can still score his points, and knows how to find open teammates. Still, in a one on one matchup, neither player really has an advantage over the other.
Daniel Green vs Thabo Sefolosha
Daniel Green has been outstanding for the Spurs this season and played himself into the starting role. He can score, play some defense, and has a decent three point shot. Sefolosha doesn’t do a whole lot for the Thunder, but he is a streaky player that the Spurs must account for. Still, advantage Green.
Kawhi Leonard vs Kevin Durant
Offensively, Kevin Durant gets the advantage here, as he is the current league leading scorer. Leonard can score when called upon too, and should make life difficult for Durant. Durant surely will not be stopped, but he could be slowed down by the long, athletic Leonard, who in his rookie season played his way in and gave the Spurs an option to trade an underperforming Richard Jefferson.
Boris Diaw vs Serge Ibaka
I give Diaw the nod because he can play a little bit more offense than Ibaka, who is more known for his defensive prowess than scoring abilities. I expect Diaw to be able to get to the rim or take some outside shots. Don’t count out Ibaka scoring, but look for him to make his presence known more on the defensive side of the ball.
Tim Duncan vs Kendrick Perkins
Perkins has been a nice piece for the Thunder, but he is no match for the wiser, older Duncan. Duncan is playing much younger than his age, and will continue to score against his younger counterpart. Perkins won’t make it easy, but Duncan has been in this league and long time and knows how to get to the rim in any situation.
Spurs Bench vs Thunder Bench
It’s a very tough one to call, but I like the Spurs’ bench just a little more. Sure, the Thunder have Derek Fisher and James Harden, but those are really their only two scoring options off the bench. The Spurs, with Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, and Stephen Jackson have not only more scoring options, but more complete depth. Though they may be older, their experience could play huge dividends this weekend.
Gregg Popovich vs Scott Brooks
Brooks is an up and coming coach, but Popovich is the best coach in the league. Even if the Zen Master himself were in the league, I still don’t know who is better. Popovich has managed minutes and games better than anyone this season, and it has been paying dividends for the Spurs, who are the healthiest team coming into the Conference Finals Round.
The Spurs and Thunder could have a series for the ages, but I expect the Spurs to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
Spurs 4 Thunder 2