Spurs and Thunder Cruising Through West

Which 6-0 Team has been more impressive: Spurs or Thunder?

5/18/12 in NBA   |   Andrew_Ericksen   |   230 respect

Oct 18, 2010; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots against San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) during the first quarter at the AT&T Center.  Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE

It’s been a rough go-around so far for the top two seeds in the East, but it’s been rather smooth sailing for the top dogs in the West, at least from a win-loss standpoint.  With opening round sweeps of the Jazz and Mavericks respectively, and 2-0 series lead on the two LA franchises, the Spurs and Thunder look geared up for a heavy-weight matchup in the Conference finals.

They’re two teams with completely different identities, strength’s, and focuses, and although they’ve both dominated their playoff opponents so far, which team has shown us more so far this post-season?

First Contender:

The San Antonio Spurs

Nov 22, 2010; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21), guard Tony Parker (right), and Manu Ginobili (20) react against the Orlando Magic during the second half at the AT&T Center. San Antonio beat Orlando 106-97. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE

I’ll admit it.  Even though San Antonio cruised into the playoffs this year, beating many of the league’s top contenders on the way, I still didn’t consider them a top candidate for the NBA title.  I thought that last year’s first-round flop against Memphis signaled the end of an era in San Antonio.  With the Bulls, Thunder, and Heat all being lead by young superstars looking to prove their stripes, I thought the Spurs would be on the outside looking in when June came around.

But right now it looks like it’s going to take a monumental effort to even take a game from the talented team, let alone four out of seven.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THEM RIGHT NOW:

- They’ve won 16 consecutive games and haven’t lost in over a month.  

- They’ve won all their playoff games by double digits except for the 6-point elimination game against Utah.

- Tony Parker looks to be at the top of his game, significantly out-performing fellow point-guard Chris Paul in last night’s game two and he could very well be the top point guard in the playoffs right now.

- The team’s role players are exceeding all expectations.  From Kawhi Leonard’s defensive hustle to Boris Diaw’s savvy offensive awareness to Danny Green’s clutch shooting, the Spurs are getting everything they need and more from their supporting cast.

- Defensively, you couldn’t ask for anymore right now.  Chris Paul has been constantly hurried and relentlessly shadowed and I can’t say I’ve ever seen him appear to be more frustrated.  And Blake Griffin’s been almost invisible so far.

MY BIGGEST QUESTIONS GOING FORWARD:

- How worthy have their opponents been so far?  Utah has all kinds of trouble in the backcourt and no hint of depth in the form that San Antonio has it. The Clippers, on the other hand, are full of athleticism and talent, but they’re entering their first playoff run after a condensed regular season and are built more towards the future with their collection of youth.

- Will the three’s continue to fall?  Youngsters like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green will have a lot of pressure on them the later we go into the playoffs.  Ginobili’s been deep before, but how will the younger shooters fare when each shot matters more?  The Spurs lean pretty heavily on that three-ball to power their offense.

- Just how good is this defense?  Although shutting down one of the game’s top point guards in CP3 is a remarkable feat, the Thunder have three prime scorers that can burn you on the outside or in the lane.  While I trust that Pop will once again draw up a genius game-plan, the Thunder just have so many ways to attack that it may not matter.

Second Contender:

Oklahoma City Thunder

Mar 09, 2011; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and forward Kevin Durant (35) talk during a break in the action during overtime against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Thunder defeated the 76ers 110-105. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Well if you’re tired of seeing the Spurs excel through fundamentally sound execution with slow, deliberate offensive sets, then Oklahoma City is just what the doctor ordered.  The defending champs came out firing against the Thunder with big games from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, and solid defense from Shawn Marion, but the Thunder still capped the series in just four games.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THEM RIGHT NOW:

- Game one against LA showed what happens if their opponents take a game off and game two showed the team’s ability to eek out a victory when their opponent is fully up to the task.

- They can beat you in a half-court set just as easily as they can in transition.  Durant, Harden, and Westbrook all have such diverse skill-sets that they’re an absolute pain for any defense to matchup against.

- As the young trio has grown together, you can really see that they understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses in a way that a free agent acquisition couldn’t.  This camaraderie truly makes it feel like they’re all in it together from start to finish.

- Ibaka and Perkins control the lane better than any other duo in the game. 

- Sefolosha loves the defensive challenge of Kobe and should be prepared for whatever assignment comes his way.

MY BIGGEST QUESTIONS GOING FORWARD:

- Is the team too reliant on Westbrook’s shooting?  I think it’s fair to say that no team has ever won a championship with a starting point-guard that plays the game like the multi-talented Westbrook.  He can beat you in a ton of ways, but effectively running an offense isn’t his specialty.  In fact, Harden’s probably the team’s best pure point-guard outside of the veteran Fischer.  The team has barely squeaked out wins in the two playoff games when Westbrook shot under 30% from the field, but a team like San Antonio may be less forgiving than the Lakers and Mavs.

- Can they defend the three ball?  Two of the six playoff wins would have quite possibly been losses if wide-open threes weren’t missed in the last minute by Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Blake respectively.  The Thunder are undoubtedly at their best defensively when both Ibaka and Perkins are on the court, but their lack of quickness could really hurt against some of Popovich’s three-point shooting big men like Diaw and Matt Bonner.

- Can Durant supply the dagger?  Now with three straight scoring titles, there’s no question at all that KD is one of the top scorers of our era, but becoming a playoff closer is a completely different story.  Nine seasons into his career, LeBron is still struggling to find that playoff closing mentality and it wasn’t until Dirk’s 13th season that he finally got there.  Can Durant develop the killer instinct early like Kobe and Wade or will his time have to wait?

WHICH IS THE MORE IMPRESSIVE 6-0?

Jan 15, 2010; Charlotte, NC, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich talks to guard Toney parker (9) in the first half at the Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Although Oklahoma City has played tougher opponents so far, the Spurs have been the more impressive playoff performer just in the scope of their accomplishments.  If you had a pre-playoffs checklist for everything the Spurs needed to do to be successful, there would be very few – if any – boxes left unfilled.  While the Thunder sit at a similarly perfect 6-0, there’ve been a couple hiccups on the road.  The team that dominated the regular season hasn’t skipped a beat so far this post-season, and while the biggest tests are yet to come, San Antonio fans have to love what they’ve seen so far.
Notify me by email about comments that follow mine. Preview