The Spurs and the Thunder finished the season neck-and-neck in the standings, and in the final two weeks of play the Spurs claimed the #1 seed and then raced through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Thunder have performed almost as well, running up an 8-1 record so far. Now the two best teams in the Conference/NBA are getting ready to face off.
Who saw this coming? I think we all did. That's why, two months ago, we struck up a running conversation with DrumsInTheDeep at the great Spurs site, Pounding the Rock. We continue that conversation here as WTLC poses a few questions for a dedicated Spurs fan.
To read my corresponding responses, click HERE.
To see our previous Q&A's, you can check them out here:
1. I'm not pandering here - is this the best Spurs team we've seen during the Tim Duncan era, and if not in its totality, at least on the offensive end?
I've got to look at what's right in front of me and say yes. While our defense isn't what it was in our turn-of-the-millennium heyday, it's improved dramatically in recent weeks (holding a team like the Clippers to an 0-24 run is danged impressive)--and our offense...my God, the offense! The ball movement is crisp and deliberate, a dizzying ballet of rotating wing players never taking anything less than the open shot. Tony Parker whizzing through the lane, Tim Duncan looking like he's visited the fountain in Cocoon...it's insanely fun, and beautiful, to watch. We've never, ever had offensive firepower like this, when any guy at any time can get hot and Psychologically DevastateTM the opponent. We are a churning maw of destruction. We are ruthlessly efficient. We are the Borg. Words fail me describing this team, and for a fan-base that has for so long taken excellence (sometimes) for granted, we just can't believe what we're seeing.
2. Earlier this season we discussed your thoughts on the Spurs' acquiring Diaw and Jackson midstream, and you were positively giddy with excitement. How has that anticipation manifested?
There's been a little bit of an interesting reversal. I was over the moon when we got #JACKBACK, and he often provided needed boosts of energy, defensive smothering, attitude, and chest-pounding. But he hasn't been the runaway gamechanger I would have liked to believe. I think I mistakenly thought he would, by replacing Richard Jefferson, be "the fourth man," but as he comes off the bench behind the FAR EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS Kawhi Leonard, he's really more a testament to our incredible depth than anything else.
With Boris, meanwhile, there were jokes, and head-shaking, and more jokes, but he's silenced all the doubters with his basketball IQ (no other big save Timmy reads the floor better), and his surprising development into a three-point threat. The poor guy probably felt so stifled by the Bobcats that he probably just ate donuts and didn't try, but now that he's--quite suddenly, I mean just imagine--on a championship contender, and reunited with his compatriot Tony Parker, he's blossomed into a fan favorite and a real X-factor. And thank God for that, because I wasn't so sure how much longer I could take Blair being in the starting lineup.
3. What do you think is the biggest advantage that the Spurs have against the Thunder, and on the other side of the coin, what OKC advantage scares you the most?
With Spurs-Thunder, what I see on our side is incredible array of weapons, and a halfcourt set that continually will leave the defense guessing. The Thunder have their Big 3 and love to play a lot of ISO ball, so if the Spurs can neutralize, say, just Kevin Durant, and force Westbrook and others to hurl up ill-advised shot after ill-advised shot, this may be a short series. And if that doesn't work, Pop, in all his brittle, mad genius, will make the right adjustments. I'm not big on guarantees, but I don't think he can be out-coached. A team as good as the Thunder can put on a show, sneak a few victories here and there, and close it out with heroism and maybe a few lucky bounces, but a lesser team just has to hope we beat ourselves. And with one horrific first quarter as an exception, that just hasn't happened in these playoffs.
What the Thunder do have, however, is a legend-in-the-making with Kevin Durant, a point guard who will match Parker drive for drive, a sixth-man who is basically a younger Manu with A GREAT BIG BUSHY BEARD, and--something we don't have--a truly athletic, hard-charging big in Sir Chewbacca. Your youth and athleticism is a huge factor here, as it cuts both ways: you can beat us to loose balls and may not get as gassed if this series goes long, but do you have the emotional fortitude to withstand the pressure and finally make it to the Finals? I think I know the answer on our side...we have a guy who makes love to Pressure. But Durant has shown that he can hit the big shots when it matters (against Kobe, even) so I'd be a fool to think that wasn't going to happen a few times in this series. We love to make fun of "Hero Ball" here at PtR, but when someone as cool and likable as KD is doing it, it's a lot easier to see the appeal.
4. How healthy is Ginobili, meaning, does he look 'right?' If he is not fully healthy, how much does that hurt the Spurs' chances?
Funnily enough, we just had an article here about this. Truth be told, so far he hasn't quite been Manu the Magnificent, but Manu the Merely Good Enough. While this is still a far better thing to be than last year's Manu (Manu the Broken), he's showing signs of streakiness syndrome, due to the spate of injuries suffered during the season. He started out red-hot, a potential MVP candidate even, but since he's returned to the lineup for good we've only seen flashes of his wizardry. I'm not worried about him, though. Manu will be Manu when we need Manu the most. And besides, we haven't even needed him to "be Manu" in these playoffs. He can "good enough" while the ball gets spread around to Kawhi, Danny Green, Gary Neal, etc. And I think that's better for everyone.
It's safe to say the Thunder will give the Spurs their biggest challenge yet (and maybe biggest challenge, total?) As much as I want to see my team make history and go 16-0, the Thunder are too good to be swept. While I think the Spurs WILL lose a game eventually, I don't see them losing four. Either way, it's going to be an incredibly fun series.
Spurs in 6.
Many thanks to DrumsInTheDeep for his answers and we hope to check in with him again as this series unfolds.