Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Western Conference Finals Prediction: San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

[Editor's note: This post is by John Trifone (@JohnnyT0122), who also contributes at our NFL site: Eat, Drink and Sleep Football (see John's archives).  John was a believer in the Spurs back in February; read below to see if that's still the case.]

This looks to be the best match up of the entire playoffs.  The Spurs have not lost a game since April 11, and more than that, haven't been challenged in many of their wins.  So far in the playoffs, they easily disbursed of the Jazz in the first round, and just kept rolling against the Clippers, who played very well in the first round to oust Memphis.  Even after falling behind by 24 points into the 2nd quarter of game 3, they went on to destroy LA for the remainder of the game, and won by double digits.

The Spurs look like the perfect team.  Tim Duncan is playing like he's 28 again, Tony Parker is having an outstanding season at the point, and they have few, if any, weaknesses.  They have a great coach, a deep bench, and play unbelievable team basketball.  They always seem to find the open man, and everyone on the floor is a reliable shooter.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have been pretty impressive in their own right.  I do think they have looked more vulnerable, as they have been in several very close games that could have gone either way.  In the first round of the playoffs, they swept Dallas, but realistically, could have easily gone down 0-2 at home.  In the second round, they blew the doors off against the Lakers in Game 1, but the next three contests could have, and maybe should have, gone to the Lakers.  Game 2, for example, had the Lakers leading by seven with just two minutes to go.  The flip side of the argument, of course, is that they keep finding ways to win these close games, which, of course, they have.

Clearly, Oklahoma City knows how to play well down the stretch and has several guys that can close.  While Durant is the biggest star on the team, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are perfectly capable of taking a game over when necessary, which makes it more difficult for defenses.  If you double up on Durant, you're looking at potentially leaving another stud with an open look.

While the Spurs and Thunder are a combined 16-1 in the playoffs thus far, this one certainly doesn't look like it's going to be a short series.  I'd guess that most people will be calling for a seven-game series and virtually flipping a coin on the winner.

Durant and Westbrook are the youthful superstars and future of the NBA, while the Spurs, though much less sexy, have pretty clearly been the best team in basketball for the last two months.  I think that the Thunder are a formidable opponent, but I just can't see them beating San Antonio.  In fact, I believe the Spurs will win in 5.

OKC has been a little inconsistent at times, and sometimes just start throwing up three-pointers in an attempt to make a quick run.  I don't think that's going to fly against the Spurs, and if the Thunder fall behind after three quarters, I don't expect them to be able to make the kind of runs they've made in the past in this series against San Antonio.  Don't get me wrong, OKC is incredibly athletic, they're fairly deep, they have some size, and they have multiple threats to score.  But Poppovich always seems to come up with a good scheme and I definitely give the Spurs the coaching advantage.  I also feel that the Spurs are so consistent that if OKC gets sloppy from time to time during the game, the Spurs will take advantage.  Ultimately, I like the Spurs to continue the amazing run they're on and advance to the NBA Finals over Oklahoma City.

Prediction: San Antonio in 5

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