The #2 seeded San Antonio Spurs face off against the #3 seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semifinals. A huge key to victory for the San Antonio Spurs is to limit the scoring impact of complementary players on the Thunder.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are elite players, and are most likely going to get their typical high point totals throughout the course of the game.
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Even if Durant and Westbrook combine for around 55-60 points, the Thunder would still need to rely upon players like Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, and Dion Waiters to combine for about 40 points amongst each other to even have a chance at outscoring the Spurs’ formidable offense.
Controlling the offensive impact of guys like Ibaka, Kanter, Adams, and Waiters is far easier than focusing on trying to shutdown two dynamic scorers like Durant and Westbrook. The Spurs have the defensive components to limit the offensive contributions of Durant and Westbrook’s allies.
Ibaka will drag LaMarcus Aldridge outside the paint to provide spacing for cutters like Westbrook and Waiters to drive from the perimeter. Aldridge can contest Ibaka’s jumpers and not let him develop a rhythm with his shooting. Ibaka’s airspace needs to be limited, and Aldridge is clearly capable of suffocating defense.
Kanter has a deft low-post game, but Tim Duncan remains one of the best interior defenders in the NBA. Kanter is skillful, but nothing Duncan can’t handle.
The more burly Adams doesn’t have the offensive skills that Kanter possesses, so Duncan should have an easier time on him. There’ll be more bruising inside against Adams, but he doesn’t have meaningful range to throw different options at Duncan. Adams only shot the ball outside of the painted area 16 times all season. Forcing Adams to deliver any point totals above 11 or 12 isn’t something the Thunder want to have to rely on.
Assuming that Kawhi Leonard shadows Durant for most of the game, Danny Green and Tony Parker will likely split time between Westbrook and whatever shooting guard he’s paired with in the backcourt.
Andre Roberson is the Thunder’s weak link on offense, and perhaps the Spurs can hide Parker on him despite the height differential between the two, considering that Parker is the worst defender in the Spurs’ starting lineup.
Green will probably get a shot at Westbrook, leaving Parker to try to contain Westbrook’s backcourt partner, whoever it may be. This will be a problem when it’s Waiters on the court instead of Roberson. Waiters has the clear advantage over Parker from this perspective.
At his advanced age, Manu Ginobili isn’t the defender he used to be, but besides Green, he’s probably the most apt to keep Waiters contained. Like Parker, Patty Mills isn’t a good defender, and doesn’t offer a remedy to the challenges the Spurs will face on defense.
It’ll be interesting to see if Leonard is ever shifted on Westbrook depending on who’s out on the court. With the matchup problems Durant possess to defenders, though, it’s likely that the Spurs are going to utilize the best defender in the league who happens to be on their team and keep him on Durant.
Assuming that Westbrook still puts up hefty scoring totals even if lock-down defender Green spends most of his time on him, the Spurs still have the defensive pieces to limit this Thunder offense, but with some cause for concern. Waiters can score points in bunches, and if Parker or Mills are forced to guard him if Green is assigned to Westbrook, then Waiters can provide a dangerous amount of offensive production.
Leonard against Durant seems like a much more favorable matchup for the Spurs compared to the Westbrook-Waiters backcourt combo. Aldridge, Duncan, Boris Diaw, and David West aren’t going to allow Ibaka, Adams, and Kanter to win the interior battle.
Waiters seems like the most likely candidate to become the Thunder’s #3 scoring option in this series, with Ibaka and Kanter presumably having a difficult time putting points on the board. Waiters is talented, but there’s a limit to what the Thunder should expect of him.
If the Spurs force the Thunder to try to rely on Waiters to become what James Harden was for them back in 2012, Durant and Westbrook will get very frustrated when the two of them combine for colossal point totals and still lose.
The Spurs are the ultimate collective unit. The Thunder rely heavily on just two players, and the Spurs can expose the Thunder for the flawed set-up they’ve constructed by limiting the damage done by players not named Durant or Westbrook.