Western Conference Finals Preview

23 May

OKC’s win over the Lakers on Monday left me feeling pretty euphoric. I remember the disappointment in 2010 when Pau Gasol’s put back on a Kobe Bryant miss did the boys in.  The Lakers of course went on to win the title that year.

And of course Oklahoma City used that experience to help them get to the Western Conference Finals where they learned even more lessons about what it takes to win in the playoffs.

It felt good to see them beat Kobe and the villainous Lakers ( The Lakers are one of the four storied “Sports Dynasties that make me puke with hatred 1) Yankees 2) Lakers 3) Notre Dame and 4) The Duke Blue Devils).  I respect Kobe (especially after his  performance in game 5– that reverse dunk gave me chills) but Ron Artest’s crazy ass needs to be locked up in a mental facility.

Gasol would be one of my favorite players if he played on any other team. Bynum is a head case too. I wouldn’t be surprised if he and DeMarcus Cousins were related somehow.

Fuck those guys. It always feels good to see them lose. It felt REAAALLLLLLy fucking good to see them get beat by my favorite team. It felt almost as good as when the Texas Rangers beat the Yankees in the ALCS a couple years ago. As good as it felt to get caught up in the euphoria, I knew that the party was over after Monday.

Down on I-35, the Spurs loomed quite large and there is no way the Thunder can play as badly as they had against L.A. and expect to advance to the NBA Finals. These Okies here think that they know basketball because they have been following it all of 4 years. I walked into my local pub and immediately started baited homers into taking bets with me.

I had found at least 4 suckers willing to bet a substantial amount of money on the Thunder when I realized that it may be bad karma to bet against your favorite team–no matter how sure I am of the outcome.

Its been a weird playoff season and I hated the thought of paying off hundreds of dollars to people because of a fluke injury to one of the Spurs best players. Besides,I’m also really excited about what an exciting series this is going to be and I’d hate to ruin my ability to enjoy it because a few hundred bucks.

I’ve decided to keep the betting to a minimum and just enjoy the series for what will surely be some entertaining series of up and down basketball (and for all intents and purposes the NBA Finals–whoever wins this will win it all).

As much as I like my Oklahoma City Thunder, I still don’t think they are ready to win a championship yet. They played only one complete game last series, and that was game 1.

They played like shit until the very end of games 2-4 and somehow were up 3-1 going into game 5 9and probably should have swept). Kobe was the only player who showed up for the entirety of game 5. Everyone else was hit or miss on offense (though Gasol had a double double).

Now these Okie homers have been accusing me of being a Spurs fan and anti-Thunder(funny how all the fans came out of the woodwork once they started winning–back when they sucked you couldn’t find people who even knew there was NBA in Oklahoma City), but anyone who knows hoops can clearly see that the Spurs are playing on a whole other level than any other team still in the playoffs. OKC can’t fuck around like they have been doing and expect to win more than a couple wins this round.

The margin for error is EXTREMELY small against Tim Duncan and company. That being said, an injury can change the whole dynamic of the series and they still have to play the game. So without further ado, (and the for the first time ever) here’s BMICK’s breakdown of the Western Conference Finals.

First let’s start with the starting lineups:

C- Kendrick Perkins vs. Boris Diaw.

This match-up is a wash. Diaw doesn’t scare anyone on the offensive end, but having a point guard like Tony Parker will make him look better (much like his playing days with Nash in Phoenix).  On the flip side of that Perkins won’t do much on the offensive end either. The Thunder will feel lucky if Perk gets double figures in boards and points.

Hopefully Perk won’t get too crazy and try to do too much. He seems to have at least 2 turnovers a game because he didn’t pass the ball soon enough on a break or he tried to take a defender off the dribble. He should never be handling the rock.

If he sticks to what he is best at ( setting screens and rebounding) he will have done his job. Diaw is a pretty decent defender and rebounder. He will more than likely come off Perkins to help out when Durant and Westbrook penetrate into the paint (which may actually open up Perkins for some easy dunks). Diaw won’t have to work too hard defending Perkins though.

PF- Serge Ibaka vs. Tim Duncan. 

Old man Duncan has turned it on this playoffs, but Serge won’t make it easy on him this round.  The second most vote-getter for Defensive player of the year will have his hands full. Duncan will have his hands full on the offensive end but his creativity will no doubt help.

The man can score in a number of ways and his passing is always on point–especially for a big man. Ibaka will help spread things out if his jumper continues to fall but he’ll get his points off of put backs and easy set ups from Harden, Durant and Westbrook.  Duncan shouldn’t exert too much energy on the defensive end guarding Ibaka.

I almost want to call this a wash but that would be an insult to Duncan. Duncan will get his on occasion but it won’t be exactly easy. Slight Advantage Spurs. It would be a huge advantage if this were 2003, but then again the Spurs would be playing the Sonics and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Moving right along.

SF Kevin Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard

Big advantage Thunder. Durant no doubt will feel a bit of relief at not having to deal with the brute strength of “Artest the pest” or Shawn Marion’s length this round. He should be able to just shoot over Leonard or drive right by him. Its obvious that Leonard is going to be a good player in the league but he’s going to be a bit overwhelmed here.

Durant should hit his scoring average pretty easily here and Leonard will need lots of help from his big men on D.  On the other side of the court Durant won’t have to work as hard on D and may get the opportunity to roam a little and help out when Timmy D gets the ball. This match-up does not bode well for San Antonio.

SG  Thabo Sefolosha vs Danny Green

I will certainly admit that I’m a pretty big Danny Green fan. Dude used to tea bag fools back in his Carolina days. He could also shoot the 3-ball. Now he has added defense to his resume and has given himself a chance to stick in the league. I’m very happy for the guy.He was my favorite player on that championship squad.

He and Thabo are actually near mirror images of each other. Green is a better shooter but Thabo is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Thabo can’t create his own shot and won’t score unless he gets an open three or a fast break dunk. They kind of cancel each other out. This match-up is pretty even. I don’t think either player will make much of a difference in the box-scores.

PG- Russell Westbrook vs. Tony Parker

This match-up is the one that gives me goosebumps. We might actually see more of this match-up during the Olympics. You have in Westbrook arguably the best up and coming PG. While Tony Parker is the once prodigy now grizzled veteran. Without all the paparazzi and bullshit baggage from his wife (and the sexcapades with Brent Barry’s old lady) the Frenchman can concentrate on just playing basketball.

*Quick aside, I fucking hate these French cats coming into my country and stealing up all the hot white women. It’s a little unfair. Tony Parker is already good looking, he’s a mad talented baller, and the nigga speaks French? C’mon Tony give us american bruthas  a chance. I bet he Batum, and Diaw clean up whenever they meet up after games. I know how the French get down. I’ve seen Maitresse.*

Westbrook is stronger than Parker and can probably post him up any time he wants. Both point guards are lightening quick. Westbrook has a slightly better jumper with a bit more range and he is a better defender. Parker is a better distributor and takes care of the ball better. Its a close call but I’m gonna give the edge to San Antonio.

Although Westbrook has gotten better about the way he handles the ball, he can just as easily shoot the Thunder out of the game by taking too many jumpers or driving unwisely into traffic. it is still going to be an awesome matchup and probably is the best Point Guard match-up we will see in the playoffs (unless Rondo and the C’s make it out of the Eastern Conference). I’m so excited to see this one go down.

Now let’s talk about the benches of both squads.

Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed, Derek Fisher, James Harden Daequan Cook 

versus

Dejuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, Stephen Jackson, Gary Neal, Manu Ginoboili, Matt Bonner, and sometimes Patty Mills.

This one favors San Antonio big time. Oklahoma City has some big bodies to help deal with Duncan (with Collison and Mohammed), who is the only legitimate post player for San Antonio. They don’t have anyone who can consistently create their own shot besides James Harden who can’t be guarded by anyone (I was watching him and Royal Ivey goof off during warm ups and Royal was draped all over him in the corner of the 3 point line corner and somehow Harden still swished it. After he made it he yelled “Yeah” right in Ivey’s ear–I started laughing).

Fisher can hit the spot up 3’s and so can Cook, but neither can create their own shots, and both need Harden to set them up for the wide open treys. Collison will get the occasional put back dunk and clean up on the boards and Mohammed as well, but they will only really be called upon to spell Perkins and Ibaka for rest and foul trouble.

Spurs have a really nice bench with dudes who’d be starting on lesser teams. Manu of course is the original version of James Harden (though James is stronger and faster) and will certainly get his coming off the bench. Stephen Jackson though not as quick as he once, is still long and gritty and may come off the bench once Leonard gets into foul trouble. Bro can still shoot the three and may make Durant work a little harder to get his points.

Bonner with his funny release will hit the open jumpers if you let him. Tiago Splitter is an excellent passer from the post, and Gary Neal will make you pay if you leave him open. I repeat big advantage Spurs.

Coaches- Scott Brooks vs. Gregg Popovich

Do I even need to go into this one? Pop is the best NBA coach alive not named Phil Jackson and showed his clear superiority against Vinny Del Negro during the Clippers series. His attention to detail is immense and the guy never misses a beat. A few years ago against the Hornets during a round 2 series, there was an overtime classic in a pivotal game (either game 3 or 5).

There was some kind of clock malfunction and the refs were dealing with it for a few minutes. While Byron Scott was kind of hanging out, looking ahead, and some of the New Orleans players were milling around and getting ready to restart the game, Popovich had his troops rounded up, drawing up extra plays for when the game recommenced. My thought at the time was “Damn, that’s genius. Popovich is using this as an extra time-out. ”

Now this might not like such a big deal to some people. It may even seem obvious to those who really follow the game. But my question is that if this was the obvious thing to do, then why wasn’t Byron Scott doing it?

It’s little things like that which separate Pop from the average NBA coach. The dude is the NBA equivalent to Bill Belichick (except he is much better at making draft picks).

What can I say? Scotty Brooks is a bit over matched on this one. Some of the Thunder troubles on offense I do blame on Brooks. When the team is settling for too many ill-timed jumpers instead of taking the ball to the rack, Brooks is the guy I blame for not being on top of them.

In game 5, they should have been attacking the rim with vengeance once Andrew “nutbag” Bynum picked up his fourth foul. Instead Durant, Westbrook, and Sefolosha just kept shooting jumper after jumper. I feel this is where Brooks has to remind them about what worked.

If the Thunder have these long stretches of basketball amnesia it will be a short series for them. San Antonio will run them out of AT&T, and Chesapeake Arena.

Brooks is certainly a good coach, but when it comes to X’s and O’s he’s a bit over matched in this series.

So what does OKC have to do in order to win this series?

I just said it. Attack the rim repeatedly. If Duncan is the only legit post presence, get him into foul trouble. As good as the  San Antonio Bench is they don’t have anyone who can score in the post other than Duncan.

He is their offensive front line. If he is on the bench the Spurs will be relegated to jump shots. Parker and Ginobili will get theirs, for sure they can get in the paint, but those are the only guys that can create their own shots.

They cannot simply settle for jump shots, and they cannot expect to win by going 1 on 5 with isolation sets. They will need to pass the ball as well as they did during their regular season drubbing of the Bulls (one of the best and most complete games they played all year).

On defense their success will depend on how well each player can defend one on one. This current Spurs team is designed to have one post player surrounded by four spot up shooters. Any kind of double team can result in an open 3 ball for San Antonio if OKC doesn’t rotate fast enough.

Fast break points won’t be enough to get them 4 wins. It is going to take the perfect storm for them to accomplish this. Everyone is going to have to be on their A game because San Antonio will definitely be on theirs.

Oklahoma City has the horses  to beat San Antonio but do they have the focus and discipline to execute a game plan for a full 48 minutes, four times in a series? Maybe they will, but judging from the last 2 rounds they look suspect.

Let’s face it, the Mavs were done the minute they let Caron “tough juice”Butler, Tyson Chandler, Stevenson, and Barea run off. The Lakers overachieved this year and sorely missed the stability of Phil Jackson during the end-game periods of last round.

San Antonio will be their toughest opponent yet and possibly the toughest test they will have  all playoffs. If they win, this it will be the equivalent of the ’92 Cowboys beating the 49ers in San Francisco. It’d be a surprise but not necessarily an upset.

It’s a fascinating match- up. I think every game will be extremely close with at least two of them going into overtime. At that it will come down to clutch shooting, timely coaching, and a deep bench. I’m going with the Spurs in six games.

I hope I’m wrong. But I don’t think I am. I think OKC is still one more playoff heartbreak away from being ready for an NBA championship.

Its San Antonio’s crown to lose (barring major injury of course)

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One Response to “Western Conference Finals Preview”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. RUN OKC: A Memoriam For The 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder | THIS A GOOD ASS GAME - October 22, 2015

    […] Finals. The Spurs were steamrolling opponents in the first 2 rounds of play, and it seemed inevitable that Oklahoma City was only cannon fodder for San Antonio on the way to their next championship […]

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