Two small market offensive juggernauts are preparing to slug it out as the San Antonio Spurs (8-0) and Oklahoma City Thunder (8-1) meet tonight in game one of the Western Conference Finals.
You know the storylines already, Tony Parker vs. Russell Westbrook, NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant vs. the “Bruce Bowen” like defensive minded rookie Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili the old but still good vs. James Harden the new, and oh yeah, Tim Duncan vs. the flying Spaniard Serge Ibaka and smile-less Kendrick Perkins.
In this game one preview, I’ll be breaking down the key players for each team, what the numbers tell us, and I’ll be giving my game one prediction at the end.
Tony Parker – 19.1 points (15.1 FGA), Tim Duncan – 17.6 points (14.1 FGA), Manu Ginobili – 11.3 points (9.4 FGA), Danny Green – 10.4 points (7.5 FGA), Kawhi Leonard – 8.5 points (5.9 FGA), Gary Neal – 8.3 points (5.5 FGA), Tiago Splitter - 7.6 points (5.4 FGA), Boris Diaw 6.5 points (5 FGA), Stephen Jackson – 5.6 points (4.5 FGA)
The Thunder will have one of the most difficult tasks, as they’re about to face an offensive monster in the Spurs. The Spurs have nine players who are capable of leading the team in scoring in the playoffs, and during the season they were 11-strong with Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair, and Patty Mills all leading the team in scoring at least once this season. The Thunder will key in on stopping the Spurs’ big three of Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili. But where are the defenders who can stop the remaining Spurs scorers?
Kevin Durant – 26.7 points (18.9 FGA), Russell Westbrook – 24.1 points (19.6 FGA), James Harden – 17 points (10.3 FGA), Serge Ibaka – 9.8 points (8.7 FGA)
The Thunder mainly rely on three scorers, but those three scorers score consistently. It’s almost at the point where if any of them has a bad game, they’re still scoring over 17-points in a game. That’s how lethal Durant, Westbrook, and Harden are on the offensive end. Ibaka is a guy the Spurs have to be worried about for put back-dunks and being the receptionist of alley-oops. However, having only three primary scorers puts your team in danger if one of them can’t get it going offensively. The Spurs have just too much depth for the Thunder’s leaders to have a bad game.
Spurs Shooting/Posting High Percentages
Tiago Splitter (61%), Gary Neal (57%), Tim Duncan (54%), Boris Diaw (53%), Kawhi Leonard (51%), Danny Green (50%)
Look at these shooting numbers: two of these players are second year players, one spent time in the D-League last year, one guy is 36-years old, one guy hasn’t even been on the squad for three whole months, and another is just a rookie. Yet, they all lead the team in shooting percentage. It’s scary how efficient this Spurs team is shooting the ball and finishing at the rim from their starting lineup to their bench.
Thunder Shooting/Posting High Percentages
Nick Collison (63%), Serge Ibaka (54%), Nazr Mohammed (50%), Kevin Durant (49%), Russell Westrbook (47%)
Collison, Ibaka, and Mohammed all mainly get their points off the offensive glass or are recipients of passes from the Thunder “big three.” Durant and Westbrook are shooting a very high percentage. Let’s look at who they scored against in their last two series’. Durant had to get through Shawn Marion (34 years old) of the Dallas Mavericks and Metta World Peace (32 years old) of the Los Angeles Lakers. Durant averaged 26.5 points against the Mavericks, and 26.8 points against the Lakers. I anticipate those numbers will be going down as Durant is about to have to face Leonard (20 years old) and Stephen Jackson, as Leonard is young, deceptively quick, has immensely big hands and a long wingspan. Jackson is like a linebacker on the football field. He’s in your ear, he’s in trying to get in your head, he’s physical and he believes he can stop you. Our own Kyle Boetniz dived into the Durant-Leonard-Jackson matchup more extensively. As Tony Parker said, Westbrook had to go through Jason Kidd and Ramon Sessions who aren’t attack style point guards. Westbrook will have his hands full with Parker who is confident in attacking anyone with his speed, and then also having to deal with Neal off the bench, who can put up 10-points in five minutes or less sometimes, will keep the young point guard busy defensively. Both Boentiz and Trevor Zickgraf also dived in a bit more on the Parker-Westbrook matchup earlier this week.
Spurs Three-Point marks men
Manu Ginobili (4.4 x 3PT FGA - 26%), Danny Green (4.4 x 3PT FGA – 46%), Kawhi Leonard (2.8 x 3PT FGA – 46%), Gary Neal (2.8 x 3PT FGA – 50%), Stephen Jackson (2.3 x 3PT FGA – 50%), Matt Bonner (2 x 3PT FGA – 44%), Boris Diaw (1.3 x 3PT FGA – 50%)
The amount of three point shooting the Spurs have is tremendous. In their starting lineup, everyone on the floor can hit from distance except Duncan and Parker regularly. Leonard, Green, and Diaw are all shooting over 46%, while on the bench Neal and Jackson are both shooting 50%. Imagine if Ginobili and Bonner are able to correct their shooting funk? But as our own Jeff Garcia mentioned on Saturday in the Sports Roundtable, the Spurs do go cold at times from three-point range, but it’s not on a consistent basis.
Thunder Three-Point marks men
Kevin Durant (5.4 x 3PT FGA - 37%), James Harden (3.7 x 3PT FGA – 33%), Russell Westrbook (2.6 x 3PT FGA – 30%), Daequan Cook (2.2 x 3PT FGA – 30%), Thabo Sefolosha (2.0 x 3PT FGA – 39%), Derek Fisher (1.7 x 3PT FGA – 53%)
The Thunder don’t really have any dangerous spot-up shooters except for Fisher, but they do have streaky shooters. The Thunder’s big three can all get hot if they start knocking down a few threes, and this is how they’re able to get those huge leads on opposing teams. The Spurs’ defense will have to remain aware of when the Thunder are beyond the three-point arc, especially since Durant and Harden like to shoot threes off of screens at the three-point line.
Spurs: Gets to the free throw line
Tony Parker (7.3 FTA – 81%), Manu Ginobili (3.4 FTA – 79%), Tim Duncan (3 FTA – 79%), Tiago Splitter (2.9 FTA – 35%)
Parker and Ginobili should be able to consistently get to the free throw line, as should Duncan and Splitter because the Thunder are susceptible according to assistant coaches around the league in defending the pick-and-roll. Oklahoma City’s big men are good one-on-one defenders, but not in their rotations, the same goes for their guards in switching off screens.
Thunder: Gets to the free throw line
James Harden (7.9 FTA – 90%), Kevin Durant (7.4 FTA – 84%), Russell Westbrook (6 FTA – 82%)
I anticipate Harden will live at the free throw line in this series and he is destined to have the biggest series for the Thunder, as I wrote about a few days ago. I think that since Durant and Westbrook will have to play more defense this series, they won’t be as aggressive in attacking the paint, instead they’ll be settling for jumpers.
Spurs: Enforcers in the paint
Tim Duncan (9 rebounds), Boris Diaw (5.5 rebounds), Kawhi Leonard (4.9 rebounds)
Thunder: Enforcers in the paint
Kevin Durant (8.1 rebounds), Serge Ibaka (3.1 offensive, 6.1 rebounds), Kendrick Perkins (5.9 rebounds), James Harden (5 rebounds), Russell Westbrook (4.7 rebounds)
The Spurs will have to keep an eye on Ibaka on the defensive end. He has a knack for being able to secure offensive rebounds for his club and add extra possessions, or finish with a dunk himself.
Tony Parker (7.1 assists), Manu Ginobili (4.5 assists)
Parker and Ginobili should both be able to pass the ball pretty consistently when they enter the paint in the pick-and-roll as the Thunder are a team who has trouble in their rotations when cutters get into the paint, and Ginobili will be able to quarter back when on the fast break as the Thunder struggle in transition defense as well from what I’ve seen.
Russell Westbrook (4.4 assists), Kevin Durant (3.4 assists), James Harden (3.1 assists)
The one thing the Spurs want to do is limit both Westbrook and Harden from passing when they come off a screen or get into the lane. These two guys take their game to a whole other level when they find the balance in scoring and passing.
Kawhi Leonard (1.5 steals), Tony Parker (1 steal), Tim Duncan (1 steal)
Remember how I was saying Durant and Westbrook will have to work harder on offense, Leonard and Parker aren’t the easiest guys to score over with their speed in the backcourt.
James Harden (2 steals), Russell Westbrook (1.9 steal), Kevin Durant (1.3 steal), Thabo Sefolosha (1 steal)
The Spurs’ main weakness is turnovers, they really make games tough for themselves when they start turning the ball over. They’ll have to be very precise in their passing because the Thunder are excellent and quick at getting their hands in passing lanes and finishing with speed on the other end.
Spurs Denying the Rim
Tim Duncan (1.9 blocks)
Duncan has to be careful not to get into foul trouble when helping out with the penetrating members of the Thunder’s big three, especially Harden who looks like he’ll be getting the free throw line a lot in this series when Neal or Ginobili are defending him.
Thunder Denying the Rim
Serge Ibaka (3.7 blocks), Kendrick Perkins (1.6 blocks), Kevin Durant (1.1 blocks)
What’s the easiest way to limit the Thunder’s shot blockers? Put in a healthy dose of Diaw and Bonner into the game, or run with a small ball lineup. Ibaka and Perkins aren’t comfortable at defending the pick-and-pop, because they want to protect that rim. Bonner and Diaw will either get open looks, or the paint will spread open with Ibaka and Perkins being forced to commit to the shooters.
Spurs vs. Thunder Playoff Statistics
1. Points: Spurs (102.5) – Thunder (100) = Spurs – These numbers are ridiculous on the Thunder’s end because you realize how dangerous their big three can be. The majority of the Thunder’s points come from their big three, those three are able to do it night after night while the Spurs consistently get production from numerous players on a nightly basis. As I said earlier, playing with a team that relies on three guys can be really dangerous for the Thunder, especially if one of them struggles to put points on the board, like Westbrook (7/18 FG) did in the Thunder’s only loss in the playoffs to the Lakers. The Spurs on the other hand have the luxury of their depth, that one of their big three can have a bad night, and someone or two players will probably pick-up the production.
2. Assists: Spurs (24.1) – Thunder (17.1) = Spurs – The Spurs’ passing ability will also be another advantage against the Thunder. When the Spurs run the pick-and-roll, their assists should go up as the Thunder aren’t the best at defending the pick-and-roll when the ball is being moved around the floor.
3. Shooting percentage: Spurs (49.1%) – Thunder (46.5%) = Spurs
4. Three point shooting percentage: Spurs (42.3%) – Thunder (35.4%) = Spurs
5. Turnovers: Spurs (12.8) – Thunder (10.6) = Spurs – This is the key area where both of these teams can start creating trouble for themselves. The Spurs have shown that when they take care of the ball, they are able to build huge leads and blow teams out. When the Spurs start turning over the ball, they fall behind like in game three against the Clippers or give their opponents the opportunity to take game momentum like against the Jazz in game four and Clippers in game three and four. The Thunder took care of the ball against the Lakers and Mavericks very well, but those two teams weren’t very efficient defensive teams. If the Spurs are able to make the Thunder turn the ball over like they did the regular season (16.3 turnovers per game), then San Antonio will be able to end this series quickly.
6. Rebounds: Spurs (41.3) – Thunder (40.1) = Spurs
7. Personal Fouls: Spurs (19.1) – Thunder (23.3) = Spurs
8. Free Throw Attempts: Spurs (22.5) – Thunder (24.3) = Thunder
9. Fast Break Points: Spurs (15.8) – Thunder (16.9) = Thunder – When the Thunder get steals in the backcourt, this is where a majority of their fast break points can come from. The Spurs also have to be aware of Westbrook running down the court quickly and either attacking the rim or pulling up for a quick jumper. The Thunder’s defense in transition doesn’t do too well. The Spurs will want to push the pace against the Thunder as they have a tough time getting back when teams go at them with speed.
10. Points in the Paint: Spurs (48.3) – Thunder (38.4) = Spurs – This margin is going to be huge for the Spurs, and I’ll explain in a bit.
11. Bench Points: Spurs (40.4) – Thunder (31.7) = Spurs – This is another key for the Spurs; they consistently can rely on their bench for production each and every night. For the Thunder, if Harden isn’t on his game, their bench is in serious trouble.
12. Jumpers: Spurs (36.4) – Thunder (40.3) = Spurs – This is where the Spurs hold one of the biggest advantages in the series. The Spurs have the ability to both shoot and attack the paint with a balanced attack. The Thunder however are mainly a jump shooting team. This starts and can sometimes end with Westbrook. One of his go-to moves is using a screen and pulling up for the 15-foor jump shot. Having Westbrook shoot more outside shots limits Durant and Harden’s production, while the Spurs can continue to attack from both ends on their side of the court.
13. Shots in Paint: Spurs (31.8) – Thunder (30.1) = Spurs
Statistical Leader: Spurs 11-2
Notes on the Spurs’ offense and the Thunder’s defense
Here’s a few notes I’ve taken from both clubs on each side of the ball based on observations of watching the Spurs though nine games either in person or on television, and watching sample clips of the Thunder.
- Strengths of the Spurs’ offense: Pushing the pace, executing in the pick-and-roll, sharing the basketball, and shooting or attacking the basket.
- Weakness of the Spurs’ offense: Turning the ball over, sometimes going cold and unable to make a shot for stretches.
- Strengths of the Thunder’s defense: Good help defense when teams attack the rim, score easily off turnovers, and active hands in the backcourt.
- Weakness of the Thunder’s defense: Perkins’ ability to lose his cool quite easily, don’t get back in transition, big men don’t step out on three-point line, not so good pick-and-roll defense, and bad rotations.
Notes on the Spurs’ defense and the Thunder’s offense
- Strengths of the Spurs’ defense: Leonard, Green, Duncan are great individual defenders, Diaw showing progression. Able to close out on shooters at the three-point line, and have the ability to get back in transition defense when coach Pop addresses the issue.
- Weakness of the Spurs’ defense: Big men are sometimes slow in rotations when guards attack the paint, second unit backcourt defense of Neal and Ginobili is suspect, which means Harden can go off offensively.
- Strengths of the Thunder’s offense: Durant can score at efficient rate in isolation; Harden is dangerous in pick-and-roll with ability to drive, shoot, or pass to the open man. Westbrook is dangerous in transition and becomes almost impossible to guard when he finds the balance in passing and scoring. Thunder in the open court are automatic at finishing on the break.
- Weakness of the Thunder’s offense: Turnovers and when Westbrook wants to be the “man” and continue to shoot, which means he’s limiting Durant and Harden.
Since it’s the first game of the series and both teams have had almost a week to prepare for each other, I expect both Parker and Westbrook to set the tone offensively for this game with aggressive speedy play by both guards. In the end though, I feel the Spurs’ amount of depth will win them game one by 8-10 points even if all three of the Thunder’s big three score over 15-points a piece. The Spurs’ offense will expose the Thunder’s defense in my opinion, and with the crowd cheering the team on from the AT&T Center, it’ll help players like Ginobili and Jackson to find their groove as they had been struggling in their previous games.