Found May 26, 2012 on Fox Sports West:
When you think about playoff basketball, a certain type of game comes to mind: slow, grind-it-out halfcourt basketball with defensive-minded teams, hard fouls and short benches. That's not going to be what the Western Conference finals are all about. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder do care about defense and play it pretty well. But that's not what got them this far. Both teams blew through their Western competition including an astounding 16-1 combined record so far in the playoffs by using a lot of players, running at every opportunity and shooting tons of 3-pointers. Don't expect them to stop now. It's going to be fun to watch. Speed vs. speed. Both teams want to run. Everyone who's played them has focused on trying to slow them down. But when two running teams meet, it's release the hounds! It probably comes as no surprise to hear that about the Thunder, a team full of young guys who can run all day. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden aren't just good on the fast break. They're great, either attacking the rim or pulling up for transition jumpers. But if you haven't been paying attention, you may not know the Spurs also are an up-tempo team. They won four championships with a defense-first, halfcourt style centered around Tim Duncan. Now they've reinvented themselves as a high-powered offensive team that relies on Tony Parker's speed and great 3-point shooting. The Spurs ranked third in the league in scoring (behind only the Nuggets and Thunder), first in field-goal percentage and first in 3-point percentage. They tied the Bulls for the league's best regular-season record and have won 18 straight going into Sunday's Game 1 in San Antonio. Honestly, I never thought they'd be this good. But I don't think anyone knew how quickly their young players would fit into designated roles around their established stars. Guys like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are starting and playing key roles as defenders and 3-point shooters. Parker has really taken the reins of the team and had his best season. And you have to give credit to Duncan for being willing to step back and play a smaller role. Not all superstars are unselfish enough to do that. Gregg Popovich deserves a whole lot of credit, too. It's not easy changing your team's personality, especially when it's been so successful. But he was willing to adjust on the fly as Duncan aged. What hasn't changed is that the Spurs play the right way. Disciplined team defense. Unselfish offense. Making the right pass. No drama or nonsense. It's almost like a machine. The Thunder are a little more volatile. They can be explosive on offense when they get in the open court. But they turn the ball over a lot. They were last in the NBA in assists. Westbrook kind of personifies their style because he's a point guard who's always looking to attack and score. He gets some grief for that, but I really like Westbrook. As good as Parker is and he had an MVP-type season Westbrook is a better athlete and a better defender. That point-guard matchup is going to be tremendously important. Parker scored 42 points in one game against the Thunder in February. Westbrook scored 36 when they met in March. But it will be bad for Oklahoma City if Westbrook looks at it as a mano-a-mano competition to see who can score more. He needs to keep Durant involved and avoid getting goaded into taking a lot of long outside shots because that's what San Antonio's defense is going to give him. I think you may see the Spurs defend Parker like they did Chris Paul in the West semifinals, with a bigger defender like Danny Green on him and then double him on pick-and-rolls to get the ball out of his hands. The other key matchup is Manu Ginobili vs. James Harden, the former and current Sixth Man of the Year. Both are left-handed playmakers who could probably start for 26 other teams in the league, but they really spark their teams off the bench. They'll probably match up a lot against each other when the second units are in the game. You have to like Harden because he's younger, but Ginobili missed all three meetings with the Thunder in the regular season the Spurs won two, anyway and he can be a difference-maker in the series. Two other Spurs to watch are Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw. They were great midseason pickups and they could play important roles in this series. Jackson won a championship early in his career with San Antonio and can provide leadership and 3-point shooting. Diaw is starting at center and needs to be an offensive threat when the Thunder double-team Duncan. Kendrick Perkins will probably try to push Duncan out of the lane, like he did against Andrew Bynum in the West semis, but Serge Ibaka will come over to help and Diaw can make them pay. To me, the big question for the Thunder is whether they're disciplined enough on defense to handle the Spurs' precision and ball movement. It wasn't an issue last series because the Lakers' offense was more stagnant, but now OKC's rotations have to be precise. The Spurs will run the pick-and-roll a lot with Parker and Ginobili handling the ball. When those two get in the lane, all bad things happen to the defense because they can score in the paint, feed Duncan rolling to the basket or pass to open 3-point shooters. If you're picking your poison, I think you have to go underneath the screen and give Parker open jumpers. He can knock those down now, but it's better than the alternative. I think you'll see the Spurs try to slow down OKC's running game by sending just one guy to the offensive boards and having everyone else run back in transition. They also may take fewer corner threes because when you miss those, it can start a fast break the other way. The Thunder need to run because they don't have a low-post threat on offense. Ibaka isn't comfortable with his back to the basket. Perkins is a tough guy and plays with an edge I like to say he looks like a crabby old man but he's not really an offensive threat. I think Durant and Westbrook are the two best players in the series, and Harden's not far behind. Normally that would make me lean toward the Thunder because I think stars win games for you in the playoffs. But the Spurs are a unique team. They have a unique system, Popovich is a unique coach and they have unique stars. It's a tremendously unselfish organization from top to bottom, so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. No way will the Spurs beat themselves. You can't say that for sure about the Thunder. Oklahoma City has talent and athleticism and an incredibly bright future. San Antonio has the experience and the know-how to win the title now.
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES

Why hasn't OKC committed to Brooks?

Scott Brooks has won 191 basketball games in less than four full seasons, directed the turnaround of a dormant franchise in a small market, managed the fragile chemistry of a young team and coached the Oklahoma City Thunder to within a whiff of the NBA Finals. And still the question roars louder than ever across the landscape of this league: Is he good enough? If it were only me...

Old vs. New: Western Conference Finals Prediction San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Old vs new. Experienced vs inexperienced. Manu vs. Harden. Boring vs exciting. The time has come that to see which team will prevail from the West; the experienced, cohesive and veteran San Antonio Spurs or the young, talented, fast Oklahoma City Thunder. This matchup is between, arguably, two of the best NBA teams in the [...]

Several NBA assistant coaches favor Spurs over Thunder

In a must read article by Randy Hill of Fox Sports Arizona, Hall dives into the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder's Western Conference Finals match-up by getting the opinions of those who have been on the battle grounds against both teams, opposing teams assistant coaches.In the article, Hill interviewed five different NBA assistant coaches whose teams aren't in...

Video: Talking Spurs vs. Thunder with KSBI OK Sports Wrap

With just a few more days until Game 1 of the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma news station KSBI invited Project Spurs' Michael De Leon to discuss the series. Mike gave his thoughts on the series and spoke on Tony Parker's play versus the Thunder, his prediction on the series, and much more including his defense of Project Spurs...

Thunder, Spurs bring connection into West finals

(Eds: APNewsNow. Will be updated. With AP Photos.) By JEFF LATZKE AP Sports Writer Built by a general manager who earned his stripes with the San Antonio Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder now must face the four-time NBA champions who in some ways served as a model for their franchise. General manager Sam Presti has brought some of the same core values that made the Spurs successful...

Breakdown and Prediction: Spurs vs. Thunder

Point Guard Tony Parker is playing his best basketball of his career right now. Parker has to love the pace the Spurs are playing it really favors his style of play. So far in the playoffs he is averaging 19.1 points per game 7.1 assists, and 3.4 rebounds. Russell Westbrook has been his usually explosive self in these playoffs. Westbrook is averaging 24.1 points per...

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro Crushes Charles Barkley

Game. Set. Match. San Antonio So here is the back story.  After the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Los Angeles Clippers to advance to the Western Conference Finals, TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley made some not-so flattering remarks about the city of San Antonio. Talking about the women of San Antonio:  ”It’s a goldmine for Weight Watchers.” In reference to the famous...

Spurs Round Table: Key matchups & more in Spurs, Thunder WCF matchup

On this episode of the Project Spurs-News4WOAI Spurs Round Table, Paul Garcia, and myself are joined by WOAI's Bob Gambert (aka Cyber Bob) as he fills in as host and we take a look at a couple of intriguing matchups in tomorrow's San Antonio Spurs-Oklahoma City Thunder Western Conference Finals Game 1 -- Tony Parker vs. Russell Westbrook and Manu Ginobili vs. James Harden...

Spurs, Thunder ready to rumble for West title

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Maybe they'll finally get a challenge this time. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder have simply rolled through this postseason. There's the 18-game winning streak that has the Spurs flirting with history. Seventeen combined playoff games and just one loss. The Thunder sending home the last two NBA champions, and no other playoff teams besides...

David Robinson on Spurs vs. Thunder

Our friends at News4WOAI talked to former San Antonio Spurs great David Robinson to get his thoughts on the impending Western Conference Finals between the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.Robinson says the Spurs will have advantages in several departments, including experience level, execution and coaching."We got a few advantages, but we still gotta get out there and make it...

Robinson on Spurs' advantages over Thunder

Our friends at News4WOAI talked to former San Antonio Spurs great David Robinson to get his thoughts on the impending Western Conference Finals between the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.Robinson says the Spurs will have advantages in several departments, including experience level, execution and coaching."We got a few advantages, but we still gotta get out there and make it...

WCF: A Look at the Match-ups

Sunday, two of the most impressive teams of the this post season will tip off the Western Conference finals. This series has all the ingredients to not only be the best series of this years playoffs, but one for the ages. One that we will talk about for years to come.  In one corner, wearing black trunks with a silver lining, we have the San Antonio Spurs. With...

Watching Durant And The Thunder Is Exciting, But Painful For Fans In Rip City

The Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder will forever be linked because of the 2007 NBA draft and the former I-5 Rivalry. The problem is, OKC fans probably don’t even realize it. The Thunder have advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the second straight season, and while their fans are hoping for their first appearance in the NBA Finals, they likely don...

Report: Magic eyeing Spurs' Lindsey for GM spot

While the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder get set to kick things off tonight in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Orlando Magic are hoping to scoop up that winning formula and bring it to their team. According to Yahoo! Sports, Orlando is looking at Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey, along with Thunder' Troy Weaver and Rob Hennigan, to fill the GM position...

It’s Finally Here: The Western Conference Finals

Still really good What follows is not intended to be a prediction of what will transpire in the NBA Championship series, but more an aesthetic claim: The Western Conference just plays much better basketball than the East. While the East collectively plays like the 1993 Knicks, complete with 150-point games, scrub-on-scrub flagrant fouls, “fake tough guys”, and a genuine lack...
NBA News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.