The Clippers have been vanquished and at last the Western Conference finals series that few predicted would happen between the No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder (+130) and the No. 1 San Antonio Spurs (-150) is upon us, rehashing the same battle from the 2012 conference finals. The winner will face either the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat (read our preview of that series here)
This series is packed with stars, storylines, and above all, play-making. Make a Finals-worthy play yourself by creating a betting account and then read on for everything you need to know to cash in on this fantastic series.[sc:NBAArticles ]
Five Keys to the NBA Western Conference Finals
Series Scores & Schedule
Game 1 – May 19, 9:00PM ET Oklahoma City (+4.5) at San Antonio (-4.5); total 209.5 – view all NBA lines
Game 2 – May 21, 9:00PM ET, Oklahoma City at San Antonio
Game 3 – May 25, 8:30 PM ET, San Antonio at Oklahoma City
Game 4 – May 27, 9:00 PM ET, San Antonio at Oklahoma City
Game 5 (if necessary) – May 29, 9:00 PM ET, Oklahoma City at San Antonio
Game 6 (if necessary) – May 31, 8:30 PM ET, San Antonio at Oklahoma City
Game 7 (if necessary) – June 2, 9:00 PM ET, Oklahoma City at San Antonio
1. Russell Westbrook & Kevin Durant
The Thunder have averaged 104.5 PPG in these Playoffs, and more than half of those points come from Russell Westbrook (26.6 PPG) and Kevin Durant (31.4 PPG). The Thunder will live and die with how these two players play against the Spurs. In their hard-fought six-game series against the Clippers, Westbrook put up a balanced score line of 27.8 PPG, 6 RPG, and 8.8 APG, while Durant went off for 33.2 PPG with a team-high 9.5 RPG to boot.
[sc:NBA240banner ]In four meetings against San Antonio in the regular season, Durant registered 26.3 PPG and Westbrook added 21.3 PPG more as the Thunder won all four by an average of just under 10 points. If Westbrook and Durant can deliver the same scoring punch against San Antonio as they did during the regular season, they’ll be punching their tickets the finals.
2. Bench Points
San Antonio has put up a massive 39.5 PPG from its bench in these Playoffs, best in the NBA, and loves to pounce on teams that have weak sets of relievers, like Portland. Looking at the numbers, the Spurs understandably had a harder time disposing of the Dallas Mavericks than the Trail Blazers. The Mavericks (38.3 PPG from bench) matched the production of the Spurs’ relievers in that series, practically voiding what was supposedly San Antonio’s main advantage.
It took a series against Portland for the Spurs to show the big difference their bench makes. Led by sixth-man extraordinaire Manu Ginobili (13.9 PPG), the Spurs’ bench (42.5 bench PPG) smothered the Trail Blazers’ (15.5 bench PPG). The Thunder reserves have done only marginally better than the Blazers’, having generated just 23.9 PPG thus far in the Playoffs.
3. Tony Parker
After outplaying and outsmarting a younger, more athletic point guard in Damian Lillard, Tony Parker now moves on to challenging another one in Westbrook. Parker toyed with the Trail Blazers, showing off the skills and feel for the game that has made him one of the NBA’s premiere guards in the postseason.
After pouring in 19.9 PPG against the Mavericks in the first round, Parker scored 18.4 PPG on an impressive 50.6% from the field versus Portland. While the Spurs’ offense is balanced, the primary thrust has to start with Parker. If he’s scoring, defenses have to work overtime to cover San Antonio’s many other weapons.
4. Serge Ibaka’s Health
In Game 6 of the series against the Clippers, Thunder big man Serge Ibaka (11.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 1.8 BPG in these Playoffs) appeared to have hurt his leg, forcing him to miss the rest of the contest. Ibaka is an important piece in Oklahoma City’s rotation, and his absence will be a heavy blow to the Thunder’s championship aspirations. Without him, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter would find it easier to operate in the post.
5. Gregg Popovich
The Spurs have the luxury of being handled by an all-time great coach in Gregg Popovich. The reigning NBA Coach of the Year is a skillful mentor, and has steered the Spurs to the Playoffs in every season since 1998, his first full season at the team’s helm. He has seen it all and has won everything a coach can dream of in the NBA. Still, his thirst for success remains the same as ever and the chemistry he has with the core of the Spurs (Big Three), makes San Antonio an even deadlier team team in the postseason.
Popovich’s ability to improve on the schemes he brought to bear on Westbrook and Durant during the regular season will be critical to the Spurs’ ability to frustrate the Thunder’s first and only game plan.
Writer’s Prediction – Game 1 and Series
Just like in the Portland series, the Spurs will keep up offensively even if they can’t stop Durant and Westbrook. San Antonio’s confidence in their bench will pay dividends. Expect San Antonio to finish off the Thunder in six games, especially if Ibaka can’t play a major role down low. In Game 1, the Spurs will edge Oklahoma City, but take the Thunder to cover +4.5.[sc:NBA490banner ]
2,370 total views, 1 views today