May 19, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan (21) pats point guard Tony Parker (9) on the head as they head for a time out in the second half of game three of the Western Conference semi finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. San Antonio Spurs won 96-86. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE
Who is the Spurs’ MVP of the postseason?
Joe Bendiez: Tim Duncan. With back-to-back series of facing huge front courts, Duncan has flexed his 36-year-old muscles by showing up Utah and Los Angeles. He’s been very active scoring, rebounding, and even swatting shots, and I don’t think anyone has been more consistent at doing their job on a nightly basis.
Robby Lim: This is a toss up between Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. But I’m going with Duncan because he is most consistent Spur in the playoffs and his leadership cannot be overstated. The way he led the Spurs in Game 3’s comeback victory against the Clippers was impressive.
Quixem Ramirez: Tim Duncan. When the 36-year-old Duncan is rolling towards the hoop seamlessly, stepping back and draining 16-foot jumpers (de-emphasis on the word “jump”), feeding open cutters with pinpoint precision and providing effective help defense along with a couple of blocks per game, he has to be the Spurs MVP right? On a larger scale, is there any reason why we shouldn’t put Duncan in the same conversation as Durant and LeBron? (Yes, I am not joking.)
May 19, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks with small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first half of game three of the Western Conference semi finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE
Kawhi Leonard averaged 10 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in the Western Conference Semifinals, both incrementally better than his season averages. How important is Leonard to the fabric of this Spurs team and will he sustain this production?
JB: Yes and yes. Leonard has to continue to do the little things that make him great. He’s a great defender, and can guard just about anyone on the court. His game is almost reminiscent of Bruce Bowen, but more versatile and longer. I think his numbers may dip a bit against Kevin Durant, but then again, I would not be surprised if he has a truly big series in the Western Conference Finals.
RL: Leonard has been a pleasant surprise to say the least. He is a rookie but plays like a veteran. Against the Thunder, I expect a decline in his offensive production, but if he can play tough defense on Kevin Durant and continue to help the Spurs win games; I don’t care how many points he produce.
QR: Leonard is extremely important to the fabric of this Spurs team. His cutting ability, shooting, defense, energy and positional flexibility are invaluable. I especially love his adept knowledge of spacing; Leonard always knows where to be, when to be there and, most importantly, why he’s there.
As a result the Spurs have yet another legitimate option for opposing defenses; Leonard cutting towards the hoop. Leonards emerging offensive game should only making defending Parker and Ginobili that much harder. Will he sustain that production though? Judging by his numbers against Oklahoma City – 14.3 points and seven rebounds per game – I think Leonard is very likely to sustain his play. In fact, I’d even assert that he will but I may just be one naïve Spurs homer that is relying on a 20-year-old rookie to fulfill an extensive role on a championship team.
What do you make of Matt Bonner and Stephen Jackson’s struggles last series? Who do you think is more likely to make an impact against the Thunder?
JB: I don’t think it’s any reason for concern. The Spurs are deep at the guard position, so if Jackson is off more often than not, it does not hurt San Antonio much in the playing time he gets. Also, Matt Bonner has been on the wrong end of a mismatch against two aggressive and massive front courts. I expect Bonner will make a huge difference against the Thunder, because historically against OKC, Bonner has been able to spread the floor against the Thunder, and draw them out of their comfort zone. If he can do that, it will open the door wide open for San Antonio.
RL: I don’t really think both players have struggled, rather they don’t have enough playing time to get into a rhythm. Bonner is playing behind Duncan, Diaw and Splitter, while Jackson shares time with Leonard, Green and Ginobili at the 2/3 spot. Between Bonner and Jackson, I believe Captain Jack will make bigger impact against Oklahoma. Bonner will stretch the floor for the Spurs at times, but Jackson can do that too. More importantly, I expect Jackson to have some time defending Durant. Leonard, is a pretty tough defender, but slowing down Durant is no one man task.
QR: The Spurs are so deep that some players’ services may be rendered unnecessary (Case in point: DeJuan Blair against anybody). That was Matt Bonner in the Western Conference Semifinals. And it also didn’t help that Bonner couldn’t connect on his few 3-point attempts. I am considerably less worried about Jackson, though. I think his defense will be needed to fluster Durant on occasion and he has shown the ability to facilitate rather than control the offense.
May 3, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) and small forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrate the win over the Dallas Mavericks during game three in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the American Airlines Center. The Thunder defeated the Mavericks 95-79. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
What aspect of the Thunder scares you the most?
JB: Their ability to just go off. They have three guys that can do it, and the Spurs will not be able to afford any bad shooting nights. Defense will be big, so not allowing any 40-point performances from anyone and not allowing the Thunder to get out on the break and score at will. Other than that, not much else scares me. The Spurs should not be fazed by the typically raucous OKC home crowd. Also, Gregg Popovich faces an inexperienced Scott Brooks, who can not match Popovich’s expertise in a seven-game series.
RL: I’m not scared of the Thunder, but I have high respects for the team. Durant, Westbrook and Harden’s athleticism and ability to create their own shots, not to mention Perkins and Ibaka’s defense down low will make them tougher than the Spurs’ previous two opponents.
QR: I’m legitimately afraid of Oklahoma City’s athleticism and ethereal scoring ability. It keeps me up at night. Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook combine for 14.3 attempts at the rim, alone. Harden posted the third best free throw rate in the entire league and I havent even mentioned Serge Ibaka’s ridiculous 3.7 blocks in 27.1 minutes per game. They are insane.
Predict the outcome of the Western Conference Finals.
JB: Spurs in six. San Antonio will finally lose a game, but as long as the Spurs protect home court and steal one in Oklahoma City, the Spurs will be back in the NBA Finals. Match-up wise, the Spurs are by far better than the Thunder, with the exception of whoever is guarding Kevin Durant. Durantula is OKC’s one bright spot, but in a seven-game series, the Thunder will need a total team effort.
RL: If both teams can play to their strengths, San Antonio will take the series in six or seven games.
QR: Spurs in five. While this does seem a little low for two teams of this stature, I just think it would be very difficult to win a pivotal Game 6 in Oklahoma City. And I’d prefer not to think of Game 7 either. They scare me.