Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder is fast approaching. Both these squads are elite teams looking to climb one step closer towards hoisting a championship trophy.
The Spurs should be feeling confident, but with a small dose to caution to their self-assurance. They’re coming off a absolute dismantling of the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, but the Grizzlies were without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
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The Spurs would be wise to appreciate the relative leisure provided by a quick series against a wounded team while also being cognizant that it wasn’t an awe-inspiring feat to beat up on the Grizzlies in their debilitated state.
Gregg Popovich isn’t one for bestowing empty praise, and the team has loftier goals than just advancing out of the first round. If any pats on the back were given, they were most likely done tongue-in-cheek.
The Thunder faced slightly more adversity in their first round series against the Dallas Mavericks. After demolishing the Mavericks in game 1, the Thunder let game 2 slip away.
Steven Adams nearly had a buzzer beater that would have put them up 2-0 in the series, but it was waived off after replay review. Kevin Durant shot just 7-33 in the game, as onlookers were baffled by such an underwhelming performance from one of the league’s superstars.
The Thunder proved it was merely a small hiccup, as they went on to win the next 3 games by an average of 18 points. Even Mark Cuban’s accusation of Russell Westbrook not being a superstar couldn’t save the Mavericks. Westbrook surely enjoyed scoring 36 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the closeout game following Cuban’s comments.
Both teams consider themselves legitimate title contenders. They’re two of the premier teams in the NBA, and see each other as familiar foes in the battle of supremacy. This is the third time they’ve met in the playoffs, but their first showdown that hasn’t been in the Western Conference Finals.
The Spurs had the 2nd highest point differential in the NBA during the regular season; the Thunder had the 3rd highest. The Spurs had the 3rd most points scored per 100 possessions; the Thunder had the 2nd most.
In a typical season, a matchup between elite teams like this wouldn’t arrive until the NBA Finals or at least the Conference Finals. In an ultra-competitive Western Conference, however, this series serves as a semifinal, and an appetizer to possibly an even more historically impressive Conference Finals.
Kawhi Leonard lead the Spurs in scoring during their first round series, netting an average of 21.5 points per game in a season where he’s earned the respect of his peers and made a case for himself as arguably the best player in the league. The Defensive Player of the Year also averaged 2.75 steals per game in the first round, further justifying his recognition.
Durant and Westbrook both averaged 26 points per game in their first round series. Acting as offensive facilitator, Westbrook also averaged 11.2 assists per game in the series.
Look for each team to try to play their style of ball and try to set the tone for the rest of the series in this opening game.