As the seconds ticked down in Monday night’s Game 5 between the Lakers and the Thunder, it seemed to signal more than the end of a game or a series.
It resembled the end of an era. The Lakers’ last half-decade of dominance crumbled under the youth and poise of the talented Thunder.
The veterans, not the youngsters, blew fourth quarter leads of 7 and 13. It was Kevin Durant draining crunch time shots, not Kobe Bryant. But now this unstoppable force meets an unmovable object in the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs are on an 18 game winning streak dating back to the regular season. Their average margin of victory over this stretch has been almost 16 points.
This clash of the titans seems destined to be one of the best conference finals matchup in the last decade. Here are three things to watch for in this series:
1. Which point guard will play better: Russell Westbrook vs. Tony Parker?
Westbrook torched the Lakers to the tune of almost 26 points per game in all-NBA like performance. His ability to knock down jumpers and get in the lane was pivotal in opening up the Thunder’s shooters. Parker, on the other hand, has played like an MVP candidate this season. With Ginobili missing half the season, Parker led the Spurs to a tie for the NBA’s best record. Whichever team’s point guard can outplay the other will likely have the edge.
2. Can Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins wear down Tim Duncan?
Duncan will have to battle down low with two of the NBA’s best low-post defenders in Ibaka and Perkins. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum wilted away under their physical defense as that series progessed. At age 36, Duncan’s body may not be able to handle the wear and tear as the series goes on.
3. Whose sixth man will play better, Manu Ginobili or James Harden?
Ginobili, the former sixth man of the year, will face off against the current sixth man of the year, James Harden. Both play a similar style in creating plays off the dribble and knocking down the three ball. Ginobili though has been hobbled by injuries all season, and is averaging his lowest points per game since his rookie season.
Prediction: Spurs in 7
Though Oklahoma City’s big three of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden look primed to outplay San Antonio’s big three in Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili, the Spurs’ supporting cast is much better than the Thunders’. San Antonio has ten players who average more than 9 points a game, giving them the deepest team in the league. Homecourt advantage and playoff experience also play in the Spurs favor.