Let’s be candid. The Western Conference Playoffs to date have been brutally bad. Almost unwatchable bad.
Golden State with an injured Steph Curry cruised past Houston in five games. Maybe the fact James Harden and Dwight Howard hate each other somewhat plays into the fact Houston was a nightmare this season. Sarcasm dripping. Kevin McHale smiling knowingly.
San Antonio swept an injury decimated Memphis team which was without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
OKC’s Thunder beat an untalented, injury riddled Dallas team in five games. Note to Mark Cuban, instead of worrying about Westbrook, get some ball players on your roster. Your team is a mess. Even Dirk knows this.
In the one competitive series to watch, the Clippers versus Portland, it’s hard to watch because LA lost both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the same game. A completely forgettable season for Blake Griffin. Calling it a wasted, pissed away season doesn’t seem over the top to me. Steve Ballmer must be thrilled. I’m an OU fan and I’m not sure I’d want Blake Griffin wearing a Thunder jersey.
In the East, does anyone actually think any of these teams are going to beat the Cavs? Cleveland looks good. LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love appear to have figured out the role and ball distribution issues. With Steph’s knee injury, it wouldn’t be completely foolish to tout the Cavs as the team most likely to win the Cup just about now. But let’s see how Steph’s knee comes along before we do that.
So…maybe with this OKC-Spurs series… all of us NBA fans will get something worth watching this post season.
The two teams split their four games going 2-2. OKC was a pedestrian 55-27, while the Spurs set a franchise record winning 67 regular season games. But keep this in mind abut the Spurs and Thunder –neither did much against the two teams who matter. OKC went a combined 0-5 against the Warriors and Cavs, while the Spurs went 2-4.
For the first time since their 2012 NBA Finals season, OKC’s big three of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka are all healthy beyond Patrick Beverly.
It’s not that I think the Spurs are world beaters, but my question would be…is this OKC team better than the Thunder team which made the NBA Finals in 2012?
To me the answer is a resounding no. That team had a then still hungry James Harden playing the sixth man role to the hilt. That team had Thabo playing defense while actually having the capability to make some shots. That team had Kendrick Perkins threatening to strangle Durant and Westbrook if they didn’t exert themselves on the defensive end.
This OKC team has a vastly inconsistent Dion Waiters trying to fill the Harden role. This team has Andre Roberson with their hands over their eyes and a prayer on their lips whenever he launches a shot. This team has an offensively talented Enes Kanter who can catch and finish, but can’t guard.
So what do we know about post season NBA basketball? Defense seriously matters. The games slow down. Each possession means more. Smart teams advance, mentally challenged teams usually don’t.
But having written that paragraph I think this series has the potential to be extremely watchable and exciting. I heard Traber say the other day what a coaching mismatch this provides with Pop versus Donovan. I also heard Jim Traber continually lobby for Scott Brooks’ dismissal. Take a guess what Brooks’ post season record was against Popovich. It’s 6-6 with each coach winning a six game series against the other. BTW, the guy sitting next to Donovan will be the same guy who was sitting next to Brooks in 2012, which would be Mo Cheeks.
To me the series comes down to several questions for Oklahoma City if they want to advance.
Can Durant and Westbrook play championship caliber defense and keep their turnovers to a minimum?
Can Good Dion Waiters keep Bad Dion Waiters hidden in Sam Presti’s basement?
Can Billy Donovan and Mo Cheeks hide Enes Kanter’s defensive liabilities against Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, David West, and Boban?
Can Durant and Westbrook figure out the ball distribution decisions in the last six minutes of the games? Erik Horne at newsoksports wrote a nice piece on this very topic this morning.
Can OKC get something from its bench in each of the games?
Will Serge Ibaka show up?
On the flip side for me, the questions for San Antonio are a much shorter list.
Can Tony Parker play well enough to ‘somewhat’ neutralize Russell Westbrook?
Can Popovich make OKC pay for putting Enes Kanter on the floor? Forget the Dallas series. The Spurs have four bigs in Duncan, Diaw, West, and Boban who can all score the ball.
There should be moments in this series which are breathtaking to witness. Kawhi Leonard versus Kevin Durant. LaMarcus Aldridge versus Serge Ibaka. Westbrook versus the aged Parker. This series should give all of us some entertaining moments.
It could even give us our last glimpses of Durant and Westbrook together as Thunder teammates.
But if you put a gun to my head and asked me to make a pick, I’d take the Spurs in six games.