San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are set to clash in the Western Conference Semi-finals and this may be one of the most exciting series to watch, at least in the semis. My heart wants the Thunder to win, but my gut is telling me the Spurs are going to the finals. The series is ultimately going to come down to the underdog Thunder learning from their mistakes and taking advantage of the few – but still present – chinks in San Antonio’s armor.
San Antonio’s system has never failed them. Tim Duncan is a bit older, but so what? Commentators have always speculated that Duncan’s age is going to hold him back from playing at his usual playoff pace, but that just isn’t true. And even if this was true, the Spurs have LaMarcus Aldridge at the ready to step in for Duncan at any given moment.
Aldridge is one of the most underrated stars in the league, and this is why the Spurs are paying him close to $20 million a year. He’s going to earn more than his contract’s worth in this series if he can shut down players like Serge Ibaka. The Spurs rarely make mistakes, unlike their opponents in Oklahoma City. Even the slightest mistake against the Spurs can be costly, as the Spurs have gained a reputation throughout the years for eating the flashy, yet ultimately inexperienced new power teams on the block.
The Thunder are an extremely talented team, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook alone pose a formidable threat to any team in the NBA. They are a young and athletic team with explosive energy, but are still prone to make those mistakes the Spurs will without doubt take advantage of if not carefully guarded. Durant and Westbrook are the heart and soul of the team, and are only 27 years old. The Spurs look up to Duncan, who’s almost 41 years old. These games always come down to the 4th quarter, and in the Spurs-OKC matchup history, OKC is known for gaining a lead early on and then blowing it in the final term.
A very interesting matchup that will shine light on this young, energetic, but inexperienced versus older, fundamental, experienced battle will be between Thunder center Steven Adams and Spurs center Duncan. Adams is only 22 years old, and although athletic, has much to learn – especially playing against one of the best centers in the history of the NBA.
In a recent interview, Adams spoke about Duncan, saying: “He’s not like incredibly athletic, but he still like destroys you. He’s a nice guy, but that’s my biggest mistake as a rookie. […]”
In a game against the Spurs, Adams was playing aggressively against Duncan, after which Duncan calmly and nicely made small talk with him, to which Adams cited as a blunder because Duncan then dropped 20 on him after he subconsciously drowned out Adams’ aggression. It’s this kind of cerebral domination that allows the Spurs to compensate for their lack of youthful athleticism and it’s going to be a huge factor in this series.
Another interesting matchup is going to be Durant and Kawhi Leonard. This will be a very telling series for the young Kawhi and he is going to learn a lot playing against someone as talented as KD. Leonard is the future of the team, but in the end I believe Durant will lock him down, but will not be able to consistently score his usual 20 to 30 points a game. This matchup could very well go the other way, as Kawhi is one of the best defenders in the league. I would expect a much more physical game between these two with a lower than average scoring result on both ends.