Here we go again, two years later.
In the 2012 Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs won the first two games to go up 2-0. The Thunder went on to win the next four, advancing to the NBA Finals.
With Russell Westbrook injury last year, the Thunder never made it back to the Conference Finals while the Spurs pushed the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat to a Game 7.
This year, Westbrook is back more explosive than ever and pairs with the MVP Kevin Durant in what figures to be a series for the ages. The Spurs, with more depth than ever, finished with the league’s best record and have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. But as we saw two years ago, the Thunder didn’t need that to win.
Here’s a look at the two matchups who will have a large part in deciding the outcome of the series.
Tony Parker vs. Russell Westbrook
The Spurs will go as far as Parker’s health takes them. The 32-year-old point guard is currently listed as day to day with a hamstring injury and his effectiveness will be tested early and often by the relentless Westbrook. You can expect Westbrook to really push the pace and attack Parker off the dribble. In the Thunder pick and roll offense, the bruising bodies of players like Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins and the space they create for Westbrook and Durant off the dribble will be key in forcing Parker to be active on defense, which could limit his effectiveness on the offensive end.
Westbrook also has the ability to post up the smaller Parker and get him in foul trouble. Parker though is a pick and roll maestro and is a master of getting into the heart of the defense and creating open shots for his teammates. Whoever has the better series, that team will likely win the series.
Kevin Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard
Leonard has developed into a strong two way player capable of playing off the ball and knocking down the three. How LeBron James took over in the Finals last year in Games 6 and 7 with 32 and 37 points, Leonard cannot let Durant do the same in this series. This is a different matchup for him though and he’ll have to mix it up a bit with Durant. Durant has some inches on Leonard who is listed at 6-foot-7 but with his extremely long arms and huge hands, he can contest Durant’s shot much better than anyone else can.
For Durant, the focus has to be on attacking Leonard off the dribble and getting to the rim and not settling for too many jumpers. If Leonard and the Spurs do decide to double him, he has to do a much better job of inviting the double and passing out of it, and limit the turnovers exhibited in crucial moments during the Semifinals round against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Two years ago in the Game 6 closeout game in Oklahoma City, Durant finished with a dominant 34 point, 14 rebound, five assist performance while shooting 52% from the field. Now, with the absence of Serge Ibaka due to a calf strain, it may take another effort similar to that over the course of the series for the Thunder to oust the Spurs once again.