Chicago bowed out in the first round after losing Derrick Rose, which left the Spurs and Thunder as the teams with the two best remaining records in the playoffs.
They will now square off to determine which team will win the West and reach the Finals.
The winner will likely face the Heat in the NBA Finals, but that is also yet to be decided.
This series seems to be between the best two teams in the NBA, not only by record, but by total team talent.
They play with two different styles, but both find a way to dominate teams consistently.
Thunder-Spurs Series Preview
The Spurs have swept the Jazz and Clippers on their way to the Conference Finals. This puts their current win streak at 18 games, which stretches all the way back to April 12th.
After completely dominating the Jazz in the first round, the Spurs took on the Clippers who had just finished a tough seven-game series with the Grizzlies. They easily took the first two games before heading to L.A.
The Clippers opened up a 33-11 lead after the first quarter in Game 3 and looked like they were on their way to a blowout win. The Spurs were able to cut the lead to ten at the half, and went on to take back control with a third quarter in which they outscored the Clippers 26-8.
Game 4 ended with a score of 102-99, but the Spurs won the series without a serious challenge from the Clippers. Some believe that the lack of tough competition in the playoffs may hurt the Spurs, but being the experienced team they are this should not have any negative effects.
The Spurs will need to make the Thunder play at their pace to control this series. That means limiting fast break opportunities for the Thunder and playing the game in the half-court. Slowing down Westbrook, Harden, and Durant is no simple task, but it can be done.
The true key may be to just outscore the Thunder.
In the last meeting between the two teams, the Spurs won 114-105. Durant had 25, Westbrook had 36, and Harden had 19, but the rest of the team could not produce enough to win the game. This is tough when the main three guys take most of the shots, and it is even tougher to win when all five of the Spurs’ starters reach double-figures in scoring, as they did in that game.
The Thunder have only played one more game in the playoffs than the Spurs. After sweeping the Mavericks they let the Lakers take one game off of them before winning the series in five. Several of the games could have easily been won by the Lakers, but the Thunder always found a way to closeout the games for wins.
OKC’s key will be the play of Russell Westbrook. He has taken some criticism for taking “too many” shots at the point guard position, but he has the skills to get away with his constant shooting.
He has improved immensely as the years have gone on and is averaging just over 24 points a game in the postseason. Westbrook and Durant both are shooting near 50%, which they must continue to win have a chance at beating the Spurs.
I say Westbrook is the key because Durant is a sure thing. He will give the Thunder at least 20 points a game and is one of the best players in the world. Westbrook is already a star in the league, and he can join Durant in the “Superstar” category with an impressive finish to the playoffs.
This series is extremely tough to predict. Both teams have a rightful place in the NBA Finals, and with a weak Eastern Conference, this series is essentially a Finals-caliber series.
Even though the series is a toss-up I have to give the edge to the Thunder. The Spurs did win 50 games during the year, but in a seven-game series I give the youthful Thunder the advantage.