Thunder vs Spurs Series Preview & Game 1 Pick

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs

Game 1

Monday 9:00 EST

May 19, 2014

Game 1 Line: San Antonio -5.5 (Subject to change. Check up-to-date odds at Bovada)

Series Prices: San Antonio -220 / Oklahoma City +180

First it was Russell Westbrook, whose injured knee in last year’s playoff derailed the championship hopes of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Now, for the second time in as many seasons, the Thunder once again have sustained a massive blow to their title aspirations.

With Serge Ibaka out for the remainder of the playoffs because of a calf injury, more pressure has now been put on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to lead the Thunder past the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.

Dating back to 2012, the Thunder have won 10 out of the last 12 against the Spurs, including a 4-0 regular season series sweep by an average of 9.2 points per game. But this series has taken a different direction without the Thunder big man being available to defend against Tim Duncan.

There’s no denying that Durant and Westbrook are undoubtedly the best one-two punch in the NBA. Durant has had a few disappointing performances thus far, but since being named “Mr. Unreliable”, Durant has delivered multiple signature performances during these playoffs, which included: a 33 point performance in a closeout win against the Grizzlies and a 39 point masterpiece in a closeout win against the Clippers.

Although Durant gets all the attention, especially being the league MVP, the true MVP of the Thunder during their playoff run have been none other than Westbrook, who has delivered time and again in crucial situations.

However, Durant and Westbrook have no room for error against the Spurs, who are playing in their third consecutive Western Conference finals. Durant can ill-afford to have an off night, which we’ve seen in the earlier rounds. Westbrook, who is averaging 39.5 minutes per game, can’t afford to get into early foul trouble.

Although the Thunder will be looking for major contributions from their key role players such as Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher and Caron Butler need to be difference makers in this series. It won’t even be rookie center Steven Adams, who is about to see his role expand against the most fundamentally sound team in the NBA. Ibaka was the Thunder big who logged the most minutes at 32.9 a game. No other Thunder big man logged even 20 a game, including Kendrick Perkins. That is all about to change.

Looking for their first conference championship as the Thunder (not the Seattle Supersonics), if they’re to advance to the Finals, it will be because of Durant and Westbrook. Not because the Spurs gave a game away, or weren’t prepared to play. The Spurs are scoring 105.5 points per game while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from 3-point range. Those two percentages rank first in the postseason.

The Spurs don’t make mistakes, but rather they look to capitalize on their opponents’ mistakes. Knowing the 2014 NBA Coach of the Year, Popovich will demand his defense to force the ball out of Durant and Westbrook’s hands, forcing the Thunder’s role players to make the big plays down the stretch.

During this series, expect Tony Parker to get to the basket at ease, without Ibaka’s presence. Popovich will find a way to get the Thunder big men into foul trouble, putting more pressure on KD and Westbrook to not only score the basketball, but to crash the boards too. If reports that Parker is healthy are true, expect the Spurs to pick up right where they left off. There’s no doubt the Thunder are the more athletic team, but the Spurs are the more balanced team.

Prior to the Ibaka injury, all signs pointed towards the Thunder’s talent being too much for the Spurs to handle, especially with the way Durant and Westbrook have been playing. Now that Ibaka will not be in uniform for the remainder of the playoffs, although his absence cannot and will not be replaced, the talent of the Thunders’ two superstars will ultimately be the difference between winning and losing. Since their historical collapse in the NBA finals last year, the Spurs have wanted their chance at redemption.

Although they might eventually get their chance to win another NBA championship, it’s not going to be in 2014.

My Game 1 Pick: Thunder +5.5

My Series Pick: Thunder in 7

May 19, 2014 by : Posted in Picks and Predictions No Comments
Adam Rosen

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Adam Rosen is a seasoned sports writer with special interests in Pro Football and Basketball. He has been picking sports games against the spread for years, and has posted a 56% win rate over his last 75 predictions.

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