Three keys to OKC beating San Antonio and vice versa
By Suave Francisco
The playoffs really haven't been exciting thus far, but the Western Conference semifinals featuring the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs may redeem this overall disappointment of a first round. These teams seem to go back and forth season to season with most of the weight being carried by the team's veterans. This time, things are a little different on the Spurs end.
There's a guy on this team named Kawhi Leonard, he's won Defensive Player of the Year two straight years, and he's developed a pretty lethal offensive game as well. They've also added a post presence to this team in LaMarcus Aldridge, who's been more than dominant in his first season as a Spur. Surrounding those two players are three former All-stars, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They've won their fair share of games and still are pretty productive, but willing to take a backseat role to the new, young talent.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are a younger, more athletic team. The only thing they lack is experience and trust. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant typically carry about half of the team's total offense, but everyone including the Thunder knows that this is going to have to change for them to get past this savvy, seasoned San Antonio team, and even more so if they want to compete for a championship.
Let's look at three things the Spurs have to do to get past the Thunder.
1.) Control the pace of the game at all times. Like I said, this San Antonio team isn't quite as athletic as Oklahoma City as a whole, so they have to slow the game down, keep turnovers down and make smart plays on the offensive end. Going deep into the shot clock would be ideal, but they have to get quality shots up. Long possessions but smart possessions to control the game may be the biggest key to victory.
2.) Keep it a low scoring game. The Thunder are second in the league in scoring, averaging 110.4 points per game. When they score at least 110 points, they rarely lose. San Antonio happens to have the number one defense in the league, so this should be very interesting. They only average giving up 92 points per game and if they can keep OKC around that number, things look great for them because Oklahoma City tends to struggle defensively, especially against a team that's just as good or superior to them.
3.) Get Steven Adams in foul trouble. These two teams have close to equal frontcourts, but Oklahoma City's Steven Adams has a continuing problem with fouls. He likes to get physical, and it's biting him in the butt so far in the playoffs. If San Antonio wants to dominate the paint offensively, they have to eliminate the Thunder's biggest defensive threat. They'll still have Serge Ibaka to back Steven up, but Serge, especially this year has proven to be exclusively a shot-blocker and rebounder. Adams is a better on-ball defender.
Now, let's look at three things Oklahoma City has to do to get past San Antonio.
1.) Russell or Kevin have to have a dominating game. This is a little cliche considering their monumental role in this offense, but it's more of a necessity in this series. Both Russ and KD average 26 points per game, so we are talking at least 50 points combined from them, or things may get rocky. Russell typically plays well against the Spurs, but Kevin struggles because the primary guy guarding him is Leonard. If that's going to be the case, Russell may have to go into MVP mode and elevate his offensive game even more if possible, like last season.
2.) The bench has to be productive. This has by far been the most inconsistent part of this team. They don't have consistent play from the bench, for the exception of Enes Kanter, who was a Sixth Man of the year candidate this season. He averages 15.2 points and 7 rebounds per game on 70 percent shooting. He's having an unbelievable year and that's going to have to continue if the Thunder wants to move on to the Western Conference finals. Expect Kanter to play increased minutes during this series no matter what, but especially if Serge Ibaka gets into foul trouble, which he and Adams love to do, or in the event that Serge isn't productive offensively. Anthony Morrow, Dion Waiters, and Cameron Payne have to produce while they are on the court. When Morrow hits threes the team does well. When Waiters hits shots and steps up defensively this team almost always does well and when Payne comes in and maintains what Westbrook stars with little to no drop-off, this team usually leaves the court happy at the end of the day.
3.) Keeping Steven Adams out of foul trouble. This may be the biggest key to success for the Thunder. There's an obvious let-down when Adams gets into foul trouble and has to go to the bench. Without him, there may not be enough defensive firepower in the post to stop Aldridge, Duncan, and Marjonovic.
Let's see how this series goes with these things in mind. Many people either have OKC winning in six games, and the rest have San Antonio winning in seven games. It's going to be a long fight for both of these teams, but if they follow these three keys to victory, things will more than likely fall in their favor.