We Finally Get To See Spurs vs. Thunder
The matchup I'm most excited to watch in this series (besides Durant vs. whoever is trying to guard him) is Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook. These two guys are speedsters who love to push the ball. Tony Parker had one of his best seasons, scoring 18.3 points per game on 48% shooting and a career-high 7.7 assists per game. Russell Westbrook, on the other hand, finished 5th in the league in scoring at 23.6 points per game. Westbrook is a crazy little firecracker on the basketball court, and it will be interesting to see if Parker can manage to find consistent offense while having to battle Westbrook on the other end of the floor. Something I'd love to see out of Westbrook, however, is for him to defer to Durant just a little bit more. Westbrook has taken more shots than Durant in 5 out of the 9 playoff games thus far, and is averaging more field goal attempts than Durant in the playoffs. Don't get me wrong, Westbrook should shoot, he's a talented scorer, but this year's scoring champ should be option number one.
I was sort of kidding before with that comment about Durant, because I truly am excited to see the matchup of Kevin Durant being defended by Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was acquired by the Spurs on the night of the 2012 NBA Draft when they traded guard George Hill to the Pacers for the draft pick with which they selected Leonard. His defensive mentality was what sold the Spurs on the 20 year-old prospect, and he hasn't disappointed. Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich is one of Leonard's biggest fans, comparing him to former Spurs' lockdown defender Bruce Bowen. "He’s aggressive and not afraid to stick his nose in it. Failure doesn’t bother him. You score on him, he doesn’t sulk and say gee coach, this and that. He goes back and tries to do it better,” Popovich said of Leonard.
Leonard has people raving about his defense through the playoffs thus far, but this next round will be a much tougher test when he takes on NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant. Just about everyone who attempts to guard Kevin Durant faces a mismatch. He crouches when dribbling and has the quickness of a guard, then rises with his incredible length to get to the rim like a 7 footer. He's listed at 6'9'', but many believe he's actually 6'10'' or 11''. Kawhi Leonard, at 6'7'', will have to deal with that size/quickness combination which will be his toughest task. Durant has faced off against the Spurs three times already this year. The first time he managed 21 points on only 9 shots, but the second time he only scored 22 on 19 shots, then scored 25 on 19. In none of those games did Durant reach his season average of 28 points, and I am very interested to see if Leonard can continue to keep Durant contained over the length of what looks to be a rigorous playoff series.
I'm also looking forward to seeing how 36 year-old Tim Duncan fares against the monsters in the paint for Oklahoma City. He did fine against the athletic combo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in the series against the Clippers (averaged 21 points and 9.3 rebounds), but can he go another round against superior athletes at his age? Many people were critical of Duncan this season, thinking his career was on its last legs, but now he's got some of those critics thinking he's got a couple more solid years. Does he continue defying his age against Serge I-block-ya and Kendrick Perkins? It'll be interesting to see.
I want to pick a team to win this series, but I can't. All I can say is that I think it's going seven games. We're going to have some nail-bitting thrillers between these two clubs. Durant's ability in the clutch makes me want to lean towards the Thunder, but then again the Spurs look like the hottest team in the league right now. In addition, the Spurs have an entire week to rest Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili's old legs (Game 1 isn't until Sunday). Gregg Popovich is usually great at taking teams out of their game plans, but when the game plan is isolation and you have three players that are highly capable of doing it (Durant, Westbrook, Harden) it's tough to take it away. All I can say is that I can't wait for this series to start and I think it'll come down to Game 7.
PS - I'll be rooting for the Thunder. I want my favorite player, Kevin Durant, to get a ring for that Hall of Fame resume.