The series could be decided by Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker. That's how significant of a matchup this is. But don't expect Westbrook and Parker to cancel out each other. Both are much too good and far too dominant for that. Neither will be able to defend the other.
So the key will be which player can consistently make others better while contributing in other areas. Because the Spurs' offense is much more pass-oriented than the Thunder's, it seems Parker will have the advantage in that department and Westbrook will have his work cut out for him.
Westbrook will have to be locked in while defending Parker in the pick-and-roll and try to limit Parker's penetration. If Parker can blow by Westbrook it will break down the Thunder's entire defense and lead to layups and open 3-pointers. So Westbrook needs to focus on defense first and offense second. He doesn't have to be great. He just has to be solid.
Parker averaged 23.7 points and 7.7 assists against the Thunder this season, including a 42-point game on Feb. 4. If If Westbrook can make Parker one-dimensional, either as a scorer or a passer, the Thunder can have success. Parker can't be both.
Should OKC be relieved that DeJuan Blair has been squeezed out of the rotation?
San Antonio always seems to have some sort of X-factor who torches the Thunder. At least once in each of the past three seasons, that guy has been Blair, the second-round draft pick the Thunder passed on.
As a rookie in 2009-10, Blair came to Oklahoma City and posted a 28-point, 21-rebound game. Last year, he annoyed the OKC crowd by grabbing seven offensive rebounds in a game. And this year, he came to town and put up 22 points while pulling down 11 boards.
But with Diaw in the mix, Blair has been banished to the bench. He's appeared in just six of the Spurs' eight playoff games and averaged only 8.2 minutes. With Blair becoming the 11th man, the Thunder might no longer have to deal with a rugged and relentless rebounder that it had no answer for.
But in Diaw, the Spurs added a more versatile threat who can put pressure on the Thunder with an inside-outside offensive attack, as well as his ability to defend multiple positions. It very well may end up being a pick-you-poison proposition for OKC. Either Blair keeps possessions alive and puts the Thunder at a greater risk of putback opportunities, or Diaw finishes drives and kicks with equally deflating 3-pointers.
And don't forget about Bonner, the sharpshooting Florida product who, like Blair, has a history of burning the Thunder. Over the past two regular seasons, Bonner is 14-of-20 against the Thunder from beyond the 3-point arc. Less minutes for Blair means more minutes for Bonner. And that means matchup problems for the Thunder. OKC doesn't want Serge Ibaka covering Bonner on the perimeter.
Even if Ibaka successfully does defend Bonner on the 3-point line, it would take away his best strength, which is shot-blocking. So don't breathe too big of a sigh of relief if you don't see Blair in the mix.