David Stern Sanctions On San Antonio: Justified Or Too Much?

Soon after Gregg Popovich announced he’d be resting his team’s stars for tonight’s game against Miami and sending them home on an airplane to prepare for San Antonio’s next contest, David Stern said the Spurs would be facing “substantial sanctions” for these actions. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green were all sent home early and given a day to rest for a primetime game against Miami which was televised nationally on TNT. And since Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson are both currently injured, that meant San Antonio was playing without its best six players. Stern apologized to NBA fans, saying this decision was “unacceptable.” In his statement, it seemed that Stern was apologizing for a lack of competitive spirit in what should have been a matchup between two of the league’s best teams.

Let’s be clear, though. David Stern doesn’t give a damn about how competitive a game is between two contenders in November. What he does give a damn about, though, is how competitive a game is between two contenders on national television. Had this game not been televised, these kind of sanctions might not be happening. However, considering how often Popovich rests his starters and the fact that this would have been a great primetime matchup (and possible NBA Finals preview), it’s no wonder Stern is taking action.

Whether or not you agree with Popovich’s right to rest his starters or David Stern’s financial motivations is irrelevant. The fact is, Stern is probably in the right here. No matter what his motivation is, there are plenty of reasons why Pop can’t be pulling this kind of stuff in November. It doesn’t matter that the Spurs’ second string made it a game; what matters is TNT probably didn’t pull in the ratings it would have if Duncan, Ginobili and Parker had been on the floor. And since this game lost a lot of its luster with the news that the Spurs’ starters wouldn’t be taking the floor, a lot of people missed out on a good game. And in a league centered on competition and primetime matchups, sitting stars is frowned upon, but sending them home before the game to prepare for the next one? That’s just unacceptable.

Popovich is a terrific coach. But his decision to rest starters so often is not good for the league.

Can you imagine a league where stars are consistently given the night off and aren’t even in the arena when their teammates are playing? That’s a league nobody would take seriously. These guys are paid millions of dollars a year to play a game. People pay a lot of money to see their favorite players live. If they’re old and aching, that’s fine. But there’s no excuse for these guys to be treated like prima donnas and not even show up to the game. And that’s the kind of precedent that would be established if Pop were allowed to continue to rest his starters like this.

Popovich is a tremendous coach and clearly knows how to manage his players in preparation for the postseason; his coaching San Antonio’s reserves to a near victory over the defending champions on the road is proof of that. But every team has older guys on their roster. You can complain all you want about Stern’s hypocrisy in allowing teams to tank for draft picks but coming down hard on this kind of stuff, but the fact is, there’s a reason the NBA’s profits have increased exponentially during his tenure as commissioner. The man knows how to turn a profit and whether you’re a businessman or not, resting starters as consistently as Pop does is not good for the NBA from a financial perspective. And no matter what Stern’s motivation is, as basketball fans, shouldn’t we be siding with him anyway? Yeah it’s hard to argue with Pop’s coaching decisions considering his immense success in the league, but how can we call ourselves true fans of the sport if we don’t support actions to enforce better competition? You can’t tell me Spurs fans were excited to hear their favorite players wouldn’t be suiting up (or even in the arena) for a nationally televised game against another title contender, regardless of whether or not the game turned out to be a good one. Because even if fans do see the benefit of resting the older guys, that kind of constant disappointment for Spurs fans (and anyone who enjoys watching good basketball games) needs to be put to an end. It’s only one game and Stern may be motivated by financial reasons, but we should be united with him in a demand for the spirit of competition to shine through.

You can dislike him all you want, but David Stern is right. Resting starters is not good for the NBA.

Thunder Grab Control, Take Game 5 In San Antonio

The home team has dominated in the Western Conference Finals this year, leaving a lot of doubt as to whether or not the Oklahoma City Thunder had any chance of advancing with two of the series’ final three games in San Antonio. After Kevin Durant and James Harden willed their team to victory on the road in a 106-103 win in Game 5, that might be all but assured.

Durant led Oklahoma City with 27 points, Harden chipped in 20 off the bench and the Thunder withstood a furious rally from Manu Ginobili and the Spurs to take a 3-2 lead with the series shifting back to OKC for an elimination Game 6. The Thunder have now won three straight and will look to close out San Antonio at home, where they are 6-0 in the postseason so far. Ginobil led the Spurs with 34 points, seven assists and six rebounds and he and Tony Parker went on a tear in the second half, but the Thunder will able to cling to a narrow lead after a 13-point advantage dwindled to just two with 50 seconds to play. Parker had 20 but was once again corralled all night by Thabo Sefolosha’s tremendous defense. However, Ginobili’s insertion into the starting lineup for Daniel Green almost proved to be deadly for the Thunder, as the Spurs’ sixth man was nearly unstoppable all night, drilling five 3-pointers and willing his team back into the game in the third and fourth quarters.

Manu Ginobili was masterful, but it wasn’t enough for the Spurs.

Despite foul trouble for Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and James Harden early on, the Thunder build up a 14-point lead in the first half. Daequan Cook had valuable minutes off the bench with Sefolosha and Harden in foul trouble, knocking down all three of his shots to score eight points in just four minutes of play. However, Ginobili and company stormed back, by minimizing their turnovers during a critical stretch to cut it to eight right before halftime. San Antonio continued their run into the third quarter, taking advantage of sloppy offense and numerous turnovers from the Thunder to take a four-point lead after Ginobili hit back-to-back threes. Unfortunately for San Antonio, just like in Game 4’s masterful performance, Kevin Durant saved his best for the second half, once again warming up in the third and taking control to put his team further ahead. Durant had only five points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first half, but helped his team weather the storm and eventually a 15-4 run overcame a stretch where Ginobili scored 13 of San Antonio’s 15 points. Good defense and a solid shooting stretch from Russell Westbrook (including this mammoth alley-oop) characterized the critical third quarter run, which was capped off by a Durant buzzer-beater that extended OKC’s lead to nine heading into the fourth quarter.

Now the Thunder had built up a nine point lead on the road heading into the fourth before; in Game 1, Oklahoma City was in the exact same situation before allowing Parker and the Spurs to storm back and steal the series opener. And although San Antonio threatened to do the same in Game 5, Harden’s brilliant fourth quarter performance prevented a full on collapse and gave the Thunder the pivotal victory on the road. Harden scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth, draining three 3-pointers. These included a four-point play that extended the Thunder’s lead to 13 with five minutes to play and the shot of the game, a long-range bomb and dagger three that was the definition of clutch, putting the Thunder up five with 28 seconds to play and effectively sealing the win. But Westbrook turnovers and OKC’s sometimes annoying tendency to not put the ball in the hands of the NBA’s leading scorer resurfaced as the Spurs made a last-ditch effort to comeback. Westbrook had 23 points, 12 assists and big bucket down the stretch to give OKC a four-point advantage when the Spurs looked like they were about to take over, but he also had six turnovers and didn’t get the ball to Durant down the stretch. Some of the blame should lie with Scott Brooks, but the Thunder will need to do a better job of getting the ball to their clutch closer in tight games in the future if they want to advance and win an NBA championship.

Westbrook has struggled with poor shooting and turnovers so far. Will it matter in Game 6?

After Harden’s critical 3-pointer, Ginobili was able to score a quick layup before the Spurs set up a half court press. Another coaching error was committed by Brooks, who should have called a timeout to draw up an inbounds play. Instead, Durant was trapped and threw the ball to Sefolosha, who lost it out of bounds because of great pressure from Kawhi Leonard, giving the Spurs a chance to hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds to go. Unfortunately for San Antonio, Ginobili couldn’t hit the one that mattered and Durant iced the game with two free throws before Stephen Jackson knocked down a last-second three that didn’t matter.

With Game 6 in Oklahoma City, the Spurs playoff hopes are steadily dwindling. The Thunder have now won three straight and are undefeated at home in the playoffs this year. Switching Sefolosha onto Parker has made a huge difference in the series and the Thunder’s role players have learned how to step up and contribute. In fact, the depth that was one of the Spurs’ greatest assets has begun to fade as Oklahoma City’s bench outscored San Antonio’s 40-22. Without Parker creating havoc in the lane and the Spurs’ bench knocking down threes, Gregg Popovich has had to rely fully on Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to carry the load. Ginobili and Duncan (18 points and 12 rebounds) had great games last night, but it wasn’t enough to overcome OKC’s balanced play combined with great games from their big three of Durant, Harden and Westbrook. Now the Spurs face elimination in a hostile road environment, and history isn’t on their side. The last time the Spurs went up 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals, they lost four straight to fall to the Los Angeles Lakers in six. With a youthful and championship-hungry team led by such a high-caliber superstar in Kevin Durant standing in the way, the aging Spurs have little chance now. The Thunder need to finish them off at home (because they certainly don’t want to mess around and let this go to a Game 7 in San Antonio), but I think they will understand the gravity of winning Game 6 at home and my prediction that OKC would advance in six games is looking like it’ll be right on the money.

Since Kevin Durant wasn’t getting looks, James Harden stepped up as OKC’s clutch player for the night, giving them control of the series.

Kevin Durant Powers OKC Past San Antonio In Game 4

Thanks to a phenomenal performance from Oklahoma City’s big men and a prolific second half from Kevin Durant, the Thunder finished their defense of their home court and evened up the Western Conference Finals. With the series tied at 2-2, the Spurs will have to defend their home court and try to snatch momentum back with a pivotal Game 5 on the line.

By halftime, the Thunder had built up a 12-point lead because of elevated play from their frontcourt. Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison were 15-for-17 in the first half and scored 33 of OKC’s 55 points. Ibaka’s performance was key and showed how deadly Oklahoma City can be when he plays at such a high level, finishing with 26 points on a ridiculous 11-of-11 shooting night. Perkins finished with 15 points and went 7-of-9 from the floor and Nick Collison added eight off the bench. But what was even most impressive about the Thunder’s first half lead was how little Kevin Durant had done up until that point: 1-for-3 from the field and just eight points in the first half. But after exploding for 28 points in the second half (18 of which came in the last seven minutes of the game), it seems he was just warming up for something special. The Thunder’s 15-point lead was cut to just four with less than seven minutes to play, but the Durantula kept his team afloat by scoring 16 straight points for the Thunder to give OKC a nine-point lead with less than two minutes left in the game.

Kevin Durant had a Jordanesque performance in Game 3, singlehandedly lifting his team past the Spurs in the fourth.

Oklahoma City should be feeling pretty good about themselves at this point. They tied the series up and defended home court; they got over the hump and proved that they can beat this high-powered offensive team; Kevin Durant is coming off a Jordanesque performance; Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka were truly impressive on the offensive end; but most important of all, they won in convincing fashion despite the fact that Russell Westbrook and James Harden had meager performances. Westbrook had only seven points and five assists while Harden finished with 11 off the bench. The fact that the Thunder are winning without Westbrook taking a ton of shots should show OKC how important it is for Durant to take the majority of the shots, especially when their role players play to well. All of this should build confidence for a critical Game 5 in San Antonio. They have all the momentum after defending their home court and not collapsing under the pressure of a 2-0 deficit supplied by this offensive juggernaut known as the Spurs. They’ve proved to the world and to themselves that Gregg Popovich’s high-flying team is vulnerable and can be beaten. The question now is whether or not they can do what no one has been able to do so far in this series by winning on the road.

The Western Conference Finals looked dire for the Thunder after the Spurs won Games 1 and 2 at home. Now the series is a best-of-three where San Antonio has home court advantage for two games. But the Thunder come into Game 5 with the knowledge that they can win if their role players and big men play at a high level, they can win the series. The Spurs have a lot of adjustments to make after Game 4. They were out-rebounded 41-31. They got 11 points out of Stephen Jackson off the bench, but Manu Ginobili only took seven shots. And most important of all, Tony Parker had only 12 points and four assists with Thabo Sefolosha once again playing phenomenal defense on him. So while it was reassuring to see Tim Duncan lead the Spurs with 21 points while Kawhi Leonard picked up his play and added 17, the Spurs need to find a way to handle the Thunder defensively. San Antonio shot 50 percent from the field, but they gave up 56 percent shooting to the Thunder. This series still remains a pick ’em, but something tells me the aging Spurs won’t have enough to overcome Oklahoma City’s youth and enthusiasm with momentum on their side, which is why I’m still standing by my prediction that the Thunder will advance in six games.

Serge Ibaka had a huge game for the Thunder. Can OKC’s role players step up again for Game 5?

Spurs Down Resilient Thunder, Take Commanding 2-0 Lead

The Oklahoma City Thunder never gave up, but a dominant Game 2 performance characterized by Tony Parker’s penetration, fantastic ball movement and prolific outside shooting helped San Antonio win their 20th game in a row and take a 2-0 lead on the series with a 120-111 victory at home. Parker annihilated Russell Westbrook and a downright lazy OKC interior defense with 34 points and eight assists while Manu Ginobili once again hit big baskets down the stretch to fend off Oklahoma City’s attempts at coming back. Ginobili finished with 20 off the bench as the Spurs led by as many as 22 until the Thunder cut the lead to six with less than six minutes to play.

For the majority of the night, this was a complete blowout. The Thunder mounted a comeback to gap the third and fourth quarters as the Spurs missed 12 of 15 shots during one stretch, but it was too little too late for the OKC after playing so poorly in the first half. Ever since Gregg Popovich gave his “I Want Some Nasty!” speech in Game 1, the Spurs have been completely unstoppable. Parker torched Westbrook on the offensive end, shooting 16-of-21 from the floor. Ginobili hit six of his eleven shots and made a big difference down the stretch to help stave off the Thunder’s late comeback. Kawhi Leonard was a killer, going 7-of-12 to finish with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Tim Duncan shot only 2-of-11 and finished with just 11 points and 12 rebounds, but San Antonio still shot a staggering 55 percent from the floor to put up 120 points. Westbrook couldn’t keep Parker out of the lane, and that penetration got him easy looks and freed up teammates as well. The Thunder’s help-side defenders didn’t help matters either, as they were forced to play off their man to help with the penetration off the pick-and-roll, giving the Spurs wide open 3-point looks. San Antonio hit 11 3-pointers thanks to Parker’s penetration and prolific ball movement that left the Thunder’s defense dazed and confused. Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks switched strategies in the third quarter to try and minimize the Spurs’ offense by using a “Hack-a-Splitter” tactic. However, it only gained them one point as Tiago Splitter hit 6-of-12 free throws.

Tony Parker torched Russell Westbrook for 34 points and gave the Spurs a commanding 2-0 lead.

Scott Brooks will likely catch a lot of heat for that “Hack-a-Splitter” strategy, but he should hear a lot more criticism for his poor substitutions and overall coaching in this series so far. Popovich has his entire rotation system completely figured out, while Brooks has left key players on the bench for extended periods of time. In Game 1, it was Serge Ibaka who sat out for the game’s final 16 minutes. In Game 2, Derek Fisher was left on the floor late into the fourth quarter while Thabo Sefolosha, who offers nothing on the offensive end but could have helped get stops and rebounds to aid OKC’s comeback, sat on the bench. Fisher finished with 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting, so Brooks’ decision to leave him in the game so late seriously hindered the Thunder’s improbable comeback. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 31 points, five rebounds and five assists while James Harden played much more like the Sixth Man of the Year, finishing with 30 points and seven rebounds. However, Russell Westbrook let his team down once again by being completely exploited by Tony Parker on the defensive end. He ended up with 27 points, but shot just 10-of-24. Durant, in contrast, shot 10-of-17 from the floor. To summarize, Westbrook took seven more shots than the NBA’s scoring leader this season. That cannot and should not happen in Game 3 if the Thunder want to keep their playoff hopes alive.

For the Thunder, this game almost certainly means elimination. Unless they win both games at home and build massive momentum in the process, OKC will fail to reach the NBA Finals for the second year in a row. The Thunder have monumental problems on the defensive end: In Game 1, they gave up 39 points in the fourth quarter; in Game 2, they gave up 37 in the third. And the trouble isn’t just Westbrook trying to guard Parker, but Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are another massive problem area as well. Ibaka and Perkins were bad enough on the offensive end (they combined for just 11 points), but their defense on the interior was borderline laughable at times. Granted, it wasn’t their fault Westbrook was getting burned on the pick-and-roll, but they played too far off of shooters, gave up easy buckets on the inside and did little to prevent the Spurs from completely spreading the floor on every possession. San Antonio put on a show in Game 2, but the Thunder’s ability to compete in this series has been nothing short of disappointing up to this point. Westbrook has been inefficient and is taking too many shots away from Durant; Ibaka and Perkins have had no impact on either side of the floor; OKC’s role players have given them nothing; and to top it all off, Scott Brooks has been completely out-coached by Gregg Popovich. The Thunder still have a chance if they take care of business at home, but only 14 teams have ever come back to win a series after facing a 2-0 deficit. At this point, Oklahoma City would need a complete defensive overhaul to win the next two at home, where they went 26-7 during the regular season. I’d like to say the Thunder are good enough to do so, but all the Spurs need to do is steal one of the next two games in OKC to close this series up at home. That might be too much pressure for anyone to handle against this offensive juggernaut.

OKC’s back is up against the wall. Do the Thunder have what it takes to come back in this series?

Spurs Rally In Fourth To Take Game 1

It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t convincing, but Manu Ginobili and the Spurs edged Oklahoma City in a 101-98 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. San Antonio extended their winning streak to 19 and took a 1-0 lead on the series, but the Thunder played uncharacteristically lackluster down the stretch and still ended up within one basket of what could have been a crucial road victory to start the series.

Ginobili led the Spurs with 26 points off the bench, hitting big baskets down the stretch to help San Antonio come back from a nine point deficit to start the fourth quarter. Tim Duncan finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds while Tony Parker had 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists. The Thunder were outscored 39-27 in the game’s final period after allowing just 62 points through three quarters. Gary Neal pitched in 12 points and Stephen Jackson, who ended up with only five points, hit a back-breaking 3-pointer down the stretch to stop the rolling Thunder from stealing Game 1 on the road. But despite getting the victory in the series opener, I still like OKC in this series. In a highly competitive game in San Antonio, the Thunder only lost by three points after Ginobili played out of his mind and James Harden and Russell Westbrook had awful performances. The likelihood of all three of these things happening at once in a single game again is extremely little. Harden, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, was completely outplayed by Ginobili, who shot 9-of-14 from the field and played an outstanding game. Not that Ginobili isn’t capable of doing so again, but Harden won’t shoot 7-of-17 again (two 3-pointers came him garbage time) while committing four turnovers and five fouls. Russell Westbrook was even worse, finishing with 17 points on an appalling 7-of-21 shooting. That shouldn’t happen again. Tony Parker is a solid defender, but Westbrook has nowhere to go but up after such a disappointing Game 1 performance.

Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with a huge performance off the bench.

The series opener between these two high-octane teams revealed a few things to keep an eye on in the next few games. First of all, role players will be a deciding factor throughout this series. James Harden failed to make an impact until the game’s waning seconds, which the Thunder cannot afford to happen in Game 2. On the plus side though, Derek Fisher made a huge and unexpected impact with 13 points off the bench. For the Spurs, Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal also made an impact off the bench, but Stephen Jackson’s defense swayed momentum in San Antonio’s favor. Meanwhile, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka all failed to have significant impacts on the offensive end. The big three on each team is the biggest factor, but how the role players perform on each side will make the difference. Another key factor will be how each team performs down the stretch. Last night, the Spurs got the best of the Thunder in the fourth quarter, which is entirely uncharacteristic of how the Thunder have played so far in the postseason. Defense another key point of impact in this series; the Thunder held the Spurs to just 62 points after three quarters but San Antonio still ended up getting to 100 points. For Oklahoma City, or any team with a nine-point lead entering the final quarter of a huge Game 1, getting outscored like that to lose this very winnable game is completely unacceptable.

Despite the fact that the Spurs pulled out the win, all of these factors lead me to believe that the Thunder will be just fine in this series. Barring that fourth quarter meltdown by the Thunder and Manu Ginobili’s prolific night, Oklahoma City was in good position to win on the road. However, they still have Game 2 to improve and steal a game on the road before the series shits back to OKC. All the Thunder really need to improve is getting more out of Westbrook and Harden, playing defense for a full four quarters, and hoping that Ginobili doesn’t have such an incredible performance again. I think that all three of these things are entirely possible and the Spurs’ Game 1 victory doesn’t fully impress me just yet. Credit San Antonio for taking care of business at home, but if the Thunder can sneak in a win in Game 2, this series is still completely wide open. We could be looking at a long series and despite the fact that neither team played particularly well in the series opener, the Thunder have more upside after this loss than the Spurs despite playing so poorly.

I still like the Thunder in this series, but James Harden and Russell Westbrook will need to pick it up offensively.

Western Conference Finals Preview: San Antonio Spurs Vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

The streaking San Antonio Spurs and the formidable Oklahoma City Thunder tip off tonight in Game 1 of what is sure to be an exciting and enjoyable series. These two teams are coming off convincing victories and certainly earned their appearance in the Western Conference Finals. But with two seemingly unstoppable, high-scoring teams heading on a crash course to get to the NBA Finals, who’s got the edge?

The San Antonio Spurs have silenced critics who wrote them off, calling them old, boring and irrelevant. They’ve won 18 games straight and swept the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers in dominant and convincing fashion. Tony Parker has been involved in MVP talks all year, Tim Duncan has found the fountain of youth that allows him to continue producing at a high level despite being way beyond his prime and Manu Ginobili is starting to warm up on the offensive end again after missing significant time with an injury. Ginobili’s absence during that stretch strengthened the Spurs’ supporting cast and his return only boosted this high-scoring team’s offensive totals. The Spurs are averaging 102.5 ppg in their eight playoff games and haven’t lost in a month. However, they did face a rather weak Jazz team in the first round, followed by an inexperienced and pretty banged up Clippers squad. Now we’ll get to see just how deep this team is against a team that has a prolific starting five and the bench depth and defense to back them up.

The Oklahoma City Thunder convincingly swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round and then made the Lakers look like an eight seed by finishing them off in five games. OKC is a jump shooting team that can play quality defense, has decent depth and can get out and run. They are the only other team in the playoffs averaging at least 100 ppg (by averaging exactly 100.0 ppg in their nine games so far), so we can certainly look forward to a high-scoring and exciting series. The Thunder’s games were much closer than the Spurs’ and unlike San Antonio, they’ve lost a game, but these two teams are pretty evenly matched. Each side has a big three. Each side has a great coach. Each side knows how to score and how to win. So who’s going to come out on top? The experienced, streaking Spurs? Or the young, white-hot Thunder?

Which big three will lead their team to victory? Durant, Westbrook and Harden? Or Parker, Duncan and Ginobili?

This series is basically a pick ’em, but the outcome will be decided by a few key factors. First of all, whichever big three outperforms the other will give their team a huge advantage in this series. Parker, Duncan and Ginobili have been great in the postseason so far, but because of San Antonio’s depth, they haven’t had to carry the load or even play extended minutes. The Thunder can’t afford for the Spurs’ big three to outplay Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. I don’t think that will happen, but the Thunder’s big three have got to squeeze every ounce out of what little advantage they have in their big three. In a which-octane matchup like this, the Thunder’s big three have got to come to play every single night and outshine the Spurs’ best three players. The second major factor will be the role players. The Spurs are able to put up so many points because of how many guys they have that consistently put up solid numbers. Their bench is fully capable of piling on the points by knocking down 3-pointers with good ball movement and they’re a big reason why the Spurs tack on so many points every night. The Thunder can’t afford for guys like Gary Neal, Daniel Green, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson and Matt Bonner to knock down open looks.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City’s supporting cast is more defensively inclined (we’re not counting Harden as supporting cast since he’s OKC’s third-best player), but they’ve shown they can provide solid offensive contributions from time to time. If OKC’s big three puts up big numbers, the Thunder will have an advantage, but they’ll still need to score a decent amount of points to balance out how many points San Antonio’s bench will pile on. Guys like Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed and especially Derek Fisher, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have to be ready to step in and knock down a few shots in addition to locking down the Spurs’ prolific offense. The Thunder have an advantage in their starting five, but if their bench isn’t capable of putting up points, San Antonio will be extremely tough to beat. The final factor is defense. With such high scoring teams on the court, whoever can get a few stops, especially down the stretch, will come out on top. The Thunder need to limit Duncan’s production with their defensive specialists, Ibaka and Perkins. Duncan has the fundamentals and post skills to put up points, but if Ibaka and Perkins’ physicality and length can bother him, the Thunder will have a big advantage. On the defensive end, Oklahoma City will also need to limit Tony Parker’s penetration. But because Russell Westbrook is so quick, I think the Thunder can slow him down and limit the Spurs’ wide open looks on the perimeter.

All in all, this is going to be a close series between two unstoppable teams. Whoever advances from this matchup and on to the NBA Finals is an automatic favorite to win a championship just because of how good these two teams in. Whoever wins have all the momentum coming off such a monumental series and I can’t say the Heat or the Celtics will pose much of a threat to either the Spurs or the Thunder. So even though San Antonio is 2-1 against the Thunder during the regular season and has home court advantage, when all is said and done, I think the Thunder are too much for anyone to handle when they hit their jump shots. They have a tendency to fall in love with jumpers, even when they’re not falling, but with everything on the line, I think this OKC is too young and too hot to stop. This is their year to advance to the Finals and win an NBA championship. Keep in mind that the last two teams to sweep their first two playoff series didn’t advance to the NBA Finals, and the Spurs fit that category perfectly up against the formidable Thunder.

Prediction: Oklahoma City over San Antonio in six games

If Westbrook can keep Parker out of the paint, the Spurs won’t get so many open looks.

Spurs Rally From 24 Point Deficit, Build 3-0 Lead On Clippers

The Clippers were already down 2-0 and needed to play desperate. They had been dominated on their opponent’s court but now had the chance to play at home to try and gain some momentum back. For awhile, it looked like Los Angeles was going to shorten the series deficit to 2-1 after they jumped out to an immediate 33-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. They even built their lead up to 24 in the second. But even with all of that going their way, the Clippers still couldn’t overcome the resilient and offensively charged San Antonio Spurs, who used a 24-0 run in the third quarter to battle back and snag a 3-0 series lead with a 96-86 victory in Game 3.

Tony Parker led the Spurs with 23 points and 10 assists and Tim Duncan finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks after a prolific third quarter. Kawhi Leonard had 14 and Manu Ginobili added 13 off the bench. Despite San Antonio’s incredibly slow start, Greg Popovich’s squad picked it up after a dreadful first quarter and outscored the Clippers in each of the following three. The Spurs cut Los Angeles’ lead to 10 at halftime and then took a commanding lead in the third by outscoring Lob City 26-8 in the period. The Clippers’ awful shooting and numerous turnovers gave San Antonio the edge in the third and facing an eight point deficit entering the final period, LAC wasn’t able to regroup and challenge the Spurs’ lead the rest of the way.

Blake Griffin had a fantastic game, but the Clippers are still waiting for Chris Paul to show up in this series.

Blake Griffin had a phenomenal game for Los Angeles, finishing with 28 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Unfortunately, he received little help from his teammates other than Mo Williams, who had 19. Caron Butler failed to score, Randy Foye only put up seven and Nick Young couldn’t make up for either of them with just nine. But the biggest disappointment, once again, was Chris Paul. Paul has a reputation for his indomitable will and his ability to turn any team into a contender during the playoffs. Against the San Antonio Spurs, however, he has been completely and unequivocally outplayed by Tony Parker. Paul finished with 12 points and 10 assists, which isn’t a shameful stat line by any means, but for CP3? That’s nowhere near enough. The Clippers have only had one consistent scorer in this series (Griffin) while their role player/bench guards alternate having good games (Foye, Williams and Young). Without Chris Paul scoring 20+ a game, it’s amazing Lob City has been within reach in a few of these games. The Spurs are certainly looking like the toughest team in the Western Conference and, based on what I’ve seen from around the league in the past few days, are my heavy favorites to win the NBA Finals at the moment. However, they’ve definitely benefitted from Paul’s disappearance during this series.

There really is no hope for the Clippers this season any more. On the one hand, it’s impressive they were able to make it this far in their first year together after some major roster improvements and upheavals. Lob City should be commended for entertaining us all year long with YouTube highlights, for reaching the second round with such a terrible coach as Vinny Del Negro and for doing all of this without Chauncey Billups or a quality offensive center (sorry, DeAndre Jordan, you just haven’t panned out like we hoped). It will be interesting to see how good this team can be with Billups back, especially if LAC can find a way to improve at the small forward and center positions. We should all definitely keep an eye on this team next year. But in the end, losing Game 3 was pretty much the nail in the coffin and after such a monumental/demoralizing comeback/collapse, I’m predicting a sweep. Tony Parker has continued his postseason dominance, outplaying one of the best point guards in NBA history. Tim Duncan has found a way through stellar technique and perseverance to outplay younger and more athletic power forwards and centers. And the Spurs’ bench is just too much for any defense to handle right now. So at the end of the day, the outcome of Game 4 doesn’t really matter. The Spurs would certainly like to win and get more rest, but even if Chris Paul finally does show up and the Clippers get a W at home, San Antonio has this series in the bag already.

The Clippers have had a great year, but Tony Parker and the Spurs will advance convincingly.