A Dr. Jack-style breakdown of the Spurs-Thunder first round matchup
Although the outcomes of two first-round series will be determined on Sunday, the second round of the playoffs will kick off Saturday with this postseason's first heavyweight matchup, the San Antonio Spurs vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder. These foes met four times in the regular season, but each team took turns punting their final two contests. Therefore, this series, a rematch of the 2012 and 2014 Western Conference Finals, calls for—you guessed it—a Dr. Jack Breakdown.
Backcourt: Russell Westbrook had a league-leading 18 triple-doubles this season, the most since Magic Johnson in 1982. He accomplished five of them in less than 30 minutes. He led all guards in rebounding by a margin of 125 boards and had the second-most assists and the sixth-most points in the NBA. Seriously, the guy is a killer, but you can't help being charmed by him—like Colonel Hans Landa. At shooting guard, Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters mostly share the minutes by standing off to the side, wide open, with a sad, "please pass to me" look. The Spurs will hide Tony Parker there and hope that Danny Green can contain Westbrook. Green has yet to shake his shooting slump, but he should focus on limiting Westbrook's drives and forcing him to pass to anyone other than Kevin Durant. Edge: Thunder
Front court: I was beaming with pride when Kawhi Leonard won his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year Award last week, and then the same group of people voted Jamal Crawford Sixth Man of the Year. So I don't know how to feel. In any case, Durant, a 50.5% shooter for the season, shot just 38.6% in two games against Leonard. And if Coach Billy Donovan staggers KD and Russ's minutes, Kawhi may also get a few chances to help Danny Green guard Westbrook. On the offensive end, Kawhi averaged 28 points on 50% shooting in three meetings against OKC. And the Spurs, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge, made more mid-range field goals than any non-Knicks team this season, which will be key to drawing Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams out of the paint. Edge: Spurs
(In other news: Zach Lowe of ESPN reported this week that rumors of Durant coming to San Antonio in his looming free agency are picking up in a way "eerily similar" to last year's Aldridge-to-Spurs gossip. Can we please have a nickname for them? Maybe "Texas Two Step?" I'm open to ideas. Hook 'em Horns!)
Bench: Enes Kanter, the second-runner up Sixth Man of the Year, averaged 15.2 points against Dallas in the first round, but the Thunder's defensive rating was 9.4 points worse with him on the floor. He's bad at defending pick and rolls (example below), and he doesn't have the skills to disrupt Boris Diaw's passing and post moves. And look out if the Thunder put out an all-bench lineup: their most-used all-bench lineup (Augustin/Collison/Kanter/Morrow/Waiters) was outscored by 19.7 points per 100 possessions this season. Edge: Spurs
Intangibles: The Spurs have an obvious coaching advantage and more experience, and the Thunder have a composure problem: they lost 14 games this season in which they entered the fourth quarter with a lead. All that being said, the Thunder are fired up. Really fired up. Durant and Westbrook spent the better part of the last week hurling abusive language at fans, getting ejected, throwing shade at Charlie Villanueva, and calling Mark Cuban an "idiot." With Durant's free agency looming, this is the first time the Thunder's postseason hasn't been marred by injury since their 2012 Finals run, when they came from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Spurs in the Conference Finals. Slight edge: Thunder
Obnoxious fan too close to a microphone: NBA fans know to cover their ears whenever the Spurs are on national TV because the microphones always seem to pick up the persistent shrieking of the "Screaming Spurs Lady," who was revealed in 2013 to be a 23-year-old dental assistant. On the other hand, the Thunder have Judy Love, the billionaire truck stop mogul who told LeBron to "suck it up" from her floor seat on national TV in February. Edge: Thunder
In the interview below, Steven Adams calls Tim Duncan a "nice guy." Well, this is a case where nice guys will finish first. The Spurs won a series-clinching Game 6 in Fracking Arena—whoops, sorry, Chesapeake Energy Arena—two years ago, and they'll do it again. Prediction: Spurs in 6.