The marquee matchup of the NBA's conference semifinal round features San Antonio and Oklahoma City in the series opening Saturday. The NBA odds for the series and Thunder at +265.
How They Got Here
Both clubs were barely challenged in Round 1. San Antonio had by far the easiest matchup of any team in the conference quarterfinals as the Spurs drew an injury-ravaged Memphis Grizzlies team that really wasn't playoff-caliber with the roster it had. San Antonio crushed the Grizzlies three of the four games; the only one moderately close was a 96-87 victory in Memphis in Game 3. Among four-game series sweeps, the plus-88 point differential ranks third all-time in NBA postseason history.
That top-ranked Spurs defense allowed an average of just 81.0 points per game. San Antonio will be plenty rested as that series finished last Sunday and the only Spur to average more than 30 minutes was two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard at 31.5 mpg. He led the team in scoring at 21.5 ppg. LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 14.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in 28.3 minutes. Tony Parker averaged just 22.3 minutes, Tim Duncan 20.3 and Manu Ginobili 19.0. Basically, the series went perfectly for Coach Gregg Popovich. It was the ninth postseason sweep for Popovich, passing Phil Jackson for most seven-game series sweeps by a coach in NBA history.
San Antonio was 3-1 against the spread on NBA odds in Round 1 and 1-3 'over/under.'
Oklahoma City ousted No. 6 Dallas in five games on Monday, so the Thunder are well-rested too. All four Thunder wins were by at least 11 points; the lone loss was 85-84 -- only game the Thunder scored less than 108 points -- at home in Game 2 when neither Kevin Durant nor Russell Westbrook could hit the side of a barn. OKC, which won by an average of 18.2 points over the Mavs, is the only Western Conference team to advance past the first round in five of the last six postseasons.
The Thunder were 3-2 ATS on NBA picks in Round 1 and 3-2 O/U.
Series Story Lines
It's the third time these franchises have met in the playoffs. In 2014, Spurs beat the Thunder in six games in the Western Conference Finals. In 2012, San Antonio won the first two games of the West Finals, but Oklahoma City won the next four to reach the franchise's only NBA Finals (a loss to the Heat) since it moved to OKC.
San Antonio led the NBA by far in the regular season in defense, allowing 92.9 points per game. The Thunder were behind only Golden State in scoring, averaging 110.2 ppg. Certainly the individual matchup to watch here is Leonard on Durant. Know this: Durant's effective field-goal percentage with Leonard as the nearest defender is just 35.5. That is Durant's worst against any player in the NBA that has been the nearest defender on at least 20 of Durant's shots. So it could be up to Westbrook to dominate this series. But the Spurs will attempt to make Westbrook drive into traffic in the lane. And if Leonard is draped on Durant, Westbrook will have to find other open shooters or take tough shots. The Spurs are happy to let someone else beat them.
Where the Thunder should have a clear advantage is in rebounding with their size edge. They had one of the greatest rebounding differentials in NBA history during the regular season and also lead in the playoffs by pulling down 57.4 percent of available rebounds against Dallas.
Also a big story line: this could be the final playoff series in a Spurs uniform for Duncan or in a Thunder uniform for Durant. Duncan is expected to retire after the season, with Ginobili likely to join him. Durant of course is an unrestricted free agent and there are rumors he could actually sign with the Warriors, which is truly frightening. San Antonio is +210 to win the NBA title and OKC is +1450.
The teams split four meetings, with the home team winning all of them. But you really can't take much from them. The first game was the first of the season for both, a 112-106 Thunder win on Oct. 28. The Spurs were still working in new addition Aldridge yet still led by seven in the fourth. Westbrook had 33 points and 10 assists in Thunder coach Billy Donovan's NBA debut. The Spurs won 93-85 on March 12 but it was the second of a back-to-back for the Thunder. On March 26, the Spurs were in the second of a back-to-back and lost 111-92 while playing without Leonard, Parker, Ginobili, Aldridge and Duncan. On April 12, the Spurs won 102-98 in overtime but the Thunder rested Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.