What: The 2014 Western Conference Finals
Who: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs
When and Where:
- Game 1 in San Antonio: Monday, May 19 at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT
- Game 2 in San Antonio: Wednesday, May 21 at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT
- Game 3 in Oklahoma City: Sunday, May 25 at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT
- Game 4 in Oklahoma City: Tuesday, May 27 at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT
- *Game 5 in San Antonio: Thursday, May 29 at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT
- *Game 6 in Oklahoma City: Saturday, May 31 at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT
- *Game 7 in San Antonio: Monday, June 2 at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT
TV: All games will be broadcast on TNT with Marv Albert, Reggie Miller, Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr on the call and David Aldridge roaming the sidelines. Former Seattle SuperSonics play-by-play man Kevin Calabro and the legendary Hubie Brown will be on the call for every game on the radio side for ESPN Radio.
Regular Season Series History:
- Nov. 27, 2013: Thunder defeat the Spurs 94-88 in Oklahoma City
- Dec. 21, 2013: Thunder defeat the Spurs 113-100 in San Antonio
- Jan. 22, 2014: Thunder defeat the Spurs 111-105 in San Antonio
- Apr. 3, 2014: Thunder defeat the Spurs 106-94 in Oklahoma City
Going back through the 2011-12 postseason, the Thunder have won 10 of the last 14 contests they’ve played against the Spurs
How they got here:
It took the San Antonio Spurs seven games to get past the Dallas Mavericks in Round 1 – including losing by as much as 11 in Game 2 – but ended by taking 3 of 4 from Dallas including two at the American Airlines Arena and winning Game 7 in a 119-96 rout. The Spurs’ second round matchup was considerably easier as they faced a talented young Portland Trailblazers squad and embarrassed the living daylights out of them. San Antonio did lose Game 4 to the team from Rip City but their four wins came by an average margin of 17 points.
Oklahoma City may have only had to play one more game than the Spurs so far in this postseason, but I feel pretty comfortable saying they had to scrap and claw considerably more than the Spurs. Moreover, unlike the Spurs, there were certainly times in the first two round where it did not look like Oklahoma City would make it this far. Games 2-5 in Round 1 vs. Memphis went to overtime and OKC lost three of those four. After seven games, they had made it past Memphis and were set to do battle against the Clippers. After losing Game 1 and later Game 4 to level the series 2-2, the Thunder won their last two games including Game 6 at the Staples Center to end the series.
Let’s start with 48-year old Scott Brooks who has – somehow – reportedly been on the hot seat at times this season. The only explanation I can see for that would be that because he’s had the MVP (Kevin Durant), one of the league’s better point guards (Russell Westbrook) as well as other talented pieces (Serge Ibaka, James Harden), he should have won a ring by now. I’m always a supporter of holding ones’ self to a high standard of excellence so I can understand that. Brooks is in his sixth season as the head coach of the Thunder, his first gig as an NBA head coach, and has amassed a record of 293-170 (.633) in the regular season and 37-30 in the playoffs (.552) with a Western Conference Championship (2011-12) and an NBA Coach of the Year award (2009-10) to his record.
Here’s Gregg Popovich reminding you why he’s so great.
On the other bench is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, 65-year old Gregg Popovich. As I’ve matured over the years, my appreciation for Pop has increased exponentially. The man keeps guiding his team to successful season after successful season. In all of Pop’s seasons in which he has coached 82 games – as well as the lockout shortened 1998-99 & 2011-12 lockout shortened seasons – the Spurs have won at least 50 games. In regular season play, Popovich has a record of 967-443 (.686) and a postseason record of 141-87 (.618), Five Western Conference Titles and Four NBA Championships. Also in his trophy case are three NBA Coach of the Year awards (2002-03, 2011-12 & 2013-14). Popovich is without question one of the greatest basketball coaches of his era, it not all time.
Teams’ WCF History:
This is the third straight season and 13th overall that the Spurs have reached the Western Conference Finals. How many times have they won the conference finals? Five, all of them with Popovich at the helm.
This is the third year that the Oklahoma City Thunder have reached the Western Conference Finals, winning it the one time in 2011-12. Challenge me on this fact. I dare you.
What (Else) You Need To Know:
Here it is, as I appeal to the populist masses (and insert a link to a second YouTube video for the second time in this post, and the second time ever!)
- Are you a neutral or casual fan of basketball and maybe even the NBA? I then may not be able to get your attention with the San Antonio Spurs, although I ought to be able to. Rather, there is a 25-year old from Washington D.C. who just won his first MVP trophy that you should want to see. His name is Kevin Durant, and all he did this season was average 32.0 ppg (led the NBA), 7.4 rpg, 5.5 apg, 50.3 FG pct, 39.1 3-pt FG pct, and 87.3 pct from the charity stripe. An examination of John Hollinger’s statistics on ESPN.com shows that Durant also led the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating or PER (29.90), Value Added (903.8) and Estimated Wins Added (30.1). In a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, Charles Barkley talked about how the best player in the league doesn’t always win MVP. After all, if that was the case Michael Jordan would have won the MVP every single year. LeBron James is still the best basketball player in the world, but Kevin Durant may just have had a better season.
- To illustrate one of my problems with the Thunder, let’s take a look at one of Hollinger’s other advanced metrics, Usage rate. Usage rate examines the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes. Kevin Durant finished the season second in usage rate at 31.2, which I’m totally okay with. Why? He’s one of the best players in the league, and he’s so great that it only makes sense that he be involved in a significant number of possessions. He finished second, however, to his teammate Russell Westbrook (33.5). The only other teammates so closely grouped together in usage rate were DeMarcus Cousins (30.7, 3rd in NBA) and Isaiah Thomas (26.1, 19th in NBA) of the Sacramento Kings. Durant ranks much higher than his teammate Westbrook in the aforementioned categories of PER, Value Added and Estimated Wins Added, but he also ranks better in true shooting percentage (63.5 pct to Westbrook’s 54.5 pct), a shooting percentage that also accounts for free throws and 3-pointers. What I’m getting at here is Russell Westbrook drives me nuts.
- Fine, I’ll take this opportunity to admit my bias. I am most certainly not rooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Why, you ask? 1. Stupid question. 2. If they win, their ownership group – including the spawn of Satan himself, Clay Bennett – would get to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy and be awarded with NBA Championship rings. I wish nothing but joy and good tidings for guys like Kevin Durant, Nick Collison and, say, Derek Fisher. I also don’t wish anything bad upon the rest of the Thunder players more than any other group of NBA players. But the fact remains that Clay Bennett and his band of merry oilmen stormed into my town and stole our team. I’ve never rooted for the Oklahoma City Thunder, I’m not supporting them in these playoffs, and I won’t be supporting them in the future. Period.
- I should caution my knock on Russell Westbrook by adding that he is certainly one of the more dynamic point guards in the league. Westbrook battled back from a knee injury that caused him to miss 36 games and finished the year with per game averages of 21.8 points, 6.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 82.6% from the free throw line, his best mark since 2010-11. However, his 3.8 turnovers per game was tied for second worst in the NBA this season, and that mark is up to 4.5 in these playoffs. Russell, here’s some advice: when in doubt, give the ball to your teammate. Which teammate, you ask? The one whose jersey says “35” on the back with “Durant” spelled out above it.
- One of the last points we should be sure to cover related to the Thunder is the loss of Serge Ibaka, who will miss the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury. A 24-year old from the Congo, Ibaka averaged 15.1 ppg, 53.6% from the field, 8.8 rpg and 2.7 bpg this season. Those numbers were slightly lower in the postseason so far, but that doesn’t diminish just how important Ibaka was for OKC down low. OKC will now have to look to Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Nick Collison to step up in the center role.
- Okay, let’s talk San Antonio Spurs. When glowing about the Spurs, their efficiency is always mentioned. They finished in the Top 6 in both offensive (108.2, 6th in NBA) and defensive (100.1, 4th in NBA) efficiency in the regular season, as well as 2nd in both true shooting percentage (57.1%) and effective field goal percentage (53.7%). Also, their 19.1 assist ratio was best in the NBA this season. So the Spurs are very efficient.
- Everyone and their mother keeps expecting Tim Duncan to drop off at some point. After all, he is 38 and in his 17th season. However, Duncan averaged a strong 15.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.9 bpg, 49% from the field and 73.1% from the free throw line, certainly nothing to complain about. Duncan also averaged 13.8 ppg and 8.2 rpg in the Spurs’ series against the Blazers.
- While Duncan may be one of the main faces of the franchise, make no mistake; this Spurs squad is incredibly balanced offensively and that is by design. Through the first 12 games of the playoffs, the Spurs have eight players averaging at least 7.8 ppg and 38.8% from the field. They may not be household names, but the contributions of Patty Mills, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green have been huge for San Antonio.
- Before any discussion of the Spurs concludes, Tony Parker must be mentioned. Popovich has worked to save Parker a bit for these playoffs as he’s played in only 68 games and is averaging 3.5 less minutes than last season. That said, he still posted 16.7 ppg, 5.7 apg, and 50% from the field this season. In the first 12 games of these playoffs, he’s upped that point average by 2.6 points a game. Though he may be aging, Parker is – without question – still one of the best point guards in the league.
- There’s at least one more Spurs player who deserves to be mentioned, although you could make a case for all of them. Kawhi Leonard is one of the league’s rising young stars and 2013-14 saw the 22-year old have his best season yet, setting career highs in PPG (12.8), FG Pct (52.2%), 3-Pt Pct (37.9%), RPG (6.2), APG (2.0) and BPG (0.8). Leonard also posted career bests in many of his advanced metrics as well including True Shooting Pct (60.2%), Assist Ratio (14.6), and PER (19.43). Look for Leonard to shine against the Thunder.
- The X-Factor selection is going to be a bit forced here, but I’m gonna go with Manu Ginobili. He averaged only 8.6 points and shot less then 30% from the field against Portland. If he can go into dominant-Manu mode? The Spurs could sweep. That’s just how balanced and talented San Antonio is.
Prediction: Alright I’m done boring you with stats and hype and whatnot. It’s Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook a balanced and efficient squad from San Antonio. Oh, no Ibaka? Yeah, I already had the Spurs winning this series. I want to say Kevin Durant is too hungry to let his team get swept, but he already satisfied one of those hungers in winning the MVP. No Ibaka down low to stop Duncan/Diaw/Bonner/Splitter? And Gregg Popovich? I’m going with my gut, Spurs take down the Thunder in 5 games.