Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs have their best chance in years at claiming their fifth championship, but standing in the way is an Oklahoma City Thunder team that has been slated to advance to the NBA Finals virtually all year.
After taking down the last two NBA champions in the first two rounds of this year’s playoffs, Kevin Durant’s Thunder squad have showcased flashy speed as well as finishing ability en route to winning eight of their nine games in these playoffs.
Durant—along with the Big Three’s remainder of Russell Westbrook and James Harden—have carried the load for Oklahoma City in these playoffs.
Not only have the veteran Spurs lit up the first two rounds of the playoffs as well, but they’re in the midst of an 18-game winning streak. Their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are on the wrong side of 30-years-old but are showing no signs of it.
Here’s what Pop’s Spurs need to take care of if they want to advance to the 2012 NBA Finals and notch their fifth championship.
The Spurs were 2-1 in three regular season games against Oklahoma City thanks in large part to the three-point shot.
San Antonio averaged an impressive 39.3 percent from beyond the arc during the season, but that number jumped to an eye-popping 52 percent average for their three games against the Thunder.
They’ve posted some insane stats from the three-point range in these playoffs. The Spurs’ starting five of Duncan, Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw have shot 53.3 percent from deep in their eight playoff games. They’ve shot over 42 percent as a team, best among all playoff teams.
Matt Bonner is quite possibly their biggest three-point threat, and they’ll need him to come up big off the bench if he wants to get any more kids suspended from school for wacky hair.
The Thunder are well documented as a hot shooting team, but the Spurs undoubtedly have the advantage from deep.
Play Lock-Down Defense in Backcourt
Among the most talked about topics before the Los Angeles Lakers‘ playoff series with Oklahoma City was how effective Metta World Peace would be in guarding Durant.
But when it came down to it, the biggest problem the Lakers had was stopping Westbrook and Harden.
This goes to show that even if you’re hindering the NBA scoring champion, it won’t translate to victory unless you also take care of his two sidekicks.
Will Popovich get enough energy on defense from his younger starters in Leonard, Green and Diaw? Or will he look to bring some fresh bodies off the bench to fluster the Thunder’s young trio of guards?
Move Serge Ibaka Away to Get Big Tim Duncan Working
The Big Fundamental has been more than fundamentally sound in his first two playoff series, averaging more than 19 points and 10 boards this postseason. But he’s been far less effective in the regular season against the Thunder.
In three regular season games against Oklahoma City, Duncan was just 15-for-42 (35 percent) from field goal range and was flustered on the post by Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Perkins has been criticized for his offensive potency as a center, but his size and defensive prowess is top of the line.
Ibaka was one of the favorites for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award this season and might be the only answer to Duncan’s high-post shot that could bury the Thunder. But Diaw, Duncan’s frontcourt teammate, could bait Ibaka outside with his perimeter presence.
The Spurs have a lot of weapons, but none are more lethal than Duncan. They need to do all they can to get him open and going.
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