RUSSELL WESTBROOK VS. TONY PARKER
ANALYSIS: Mike Conley? Check. Chris Paul? Check. Parker? Been there done that. Westbrook already has eliminated two of the game’s elite point guards in this playoff run, and this rematch of the 2012 Western Conference Finals brings another opportunity for him to again show up a premier playmaker in Parker on the postseason stage. If he is again successful, Westbrook will continue his unstoppable march toward best-point-guard-in-the-league status. The last time these two squared off on this stage, Parker was clearly the better player. This time, Westbrook is playing the best ball of his career and Parker enters the series nursing a hamstring injury.
THABO SEFOLOSHA VS. DANNY GREEN
ANALYSIS: Green is a marksman who has shot at least 41 percent from 3-point range in each of the past three seasons. He doesn’t do much else offensively outside of long-range shooting, but he is an emerging defender who at times can downright disrupt a team’s offense. Sefolosha is supposed to be the same type of player. But he’s been streaky to say the least as a shooter, and his defense has been spotty all season. The Thunder will need both to be on point to have a chance to come out of this series.
KEVIN DURANT VS. KAWHI LEONARD
ANALYSIS: Durant hasn’t had his best postseason, and now Leonard looms as a pest who’s had some success against Durant in the past. Leonard has a history of using his length and athleticism to force Durant into being a volume scorer who must shoot from farther out. Leonard’s defense also has led to Durant turning it over at a higher rate against San Antonio. So this should be a quality matchup, perhaps better than most would anticipate. Leonard had a career year and is showing steady improvement throughout this postseason. But Durant was the MVP for a reason.
NICK COLLISON VS. TIAGO SPLITTER
ANALYSIS: We’re assuming Collison gets the start here for the injured Serge Ibaka. Thunder coach Scott Brooks has several options for this spot, including playing small and moving Durant to power forward. But Collison’s experience is likely to give him the edge. Don’t rule out Perry Jones III, though. He started the one game Ibaka missed in the regular season, and in addition to offering more versatility his presence in the starting lineup could allow the Thunder to keep its bench rotation intact. No matter which direction the Thunder goes in, the replacement should be able to handle Splitter. This position in this series is all about what the Thunder loses on defense by not having Ibaka available.
KENDRICK PERKINS VS. TIM DUNCAN
ANALYSIS: Duncan is proving he isn’t done yet, averaging 16.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, two assists and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes this postseason. He’s shot 53 percent in the playoffs, up from 49 percent in the regular season. Perkins, on the other hand, has had arguably his best postseason in a Thunder uniform. He’s scoring more efficiently, rebounding more consistently and turning it over at a lower rate. Of course, he’s supplied some excellent defense as well. And if he can do the same against Duncan, Perkins can go a long way in limiting one of San Antonio’s numerous weapons.
REGGIE JACKSON VS. MANU GINOBILI
ANALYSIS: Jackson has been wildly inconsistent this postseason, which has made him unpredictable. Ginobili, meanwhile, has had his own struggles in these playoffs but they’ve mostly been his errant shooting. He’s still orchestrating his offense when running with the second team, rebounding and defending. If he finds his shooting touch, and Jackson continues to be erratic, the Thunder could be in trouble.
ANALYSIS: For the Thunder, it’s Jackson, Derek Fisher and Caron Butler. For the Spurs, it’s Ginobili, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli, a trio that averages 27.8 points as part of a second unit that is the best in basketball. Two of the Thunder’s primary perimeter reserves — Butler and Fisher — are shooting less than 31 percent in the postseason. If OKC’s reserves don’t find their shooting touch, they’ll need to find a way to disrupt the rhythm of San Antonio’s scoring threats. If that doesn’t happen, San Antonio could seize control of contests each time the respective benches check in.
ANALYSIS: Steven Adams is proving to be a one-man wrecking crew that’s deserving of more minutes. He changed the game with his activity in Game 6 against the Clippers. And with Ibaka out, he’ll probably get the minutes he deserves. Nick Collison should also help keep the Thunder afloat, and Perry Jones III could be a nice change of pace that keeps the Spurs off balance. San Antonio doesn’t have much behind Boris Diaw in terms of bigs. So you would think OKC should be able to control the paint fairly easily here.
SCOTT BROOKS VS. GREGG POPOVICH
ANALYSIS: The last time these two met in the postseason Brooks got the better of Popovich, who watched his team lose four straight after taking a 2-0 series lead. Popovich never found a counter for Thabo Sefolosha on Tony Parker, and didn’t have an answer for James Harden. Of course, the Thunder had a more talented roster then, and the Spurs’ were relying on relatively inexperienced role players. The Thunder’s advantage isn’t as sizable this time around, and now that the playing field has been leveled you have to go with the coach with four championships.
CHESAPEAKE ENERGY ARENA VS. AT&T CENTER
ANALYSIS: This one’s essentially a toss-up. Both teams have been known to be dominant at home. But both teams have had hiccups in their buildings this season. San Antonio got its home struggles out of the way early. The Spurs are 6-1 in this postseason and have lost only one other time at home since the All-Star break. It was a meaningless season finale that San Antonio essentially conceded to the Lakers. The Thunder is 4-3 at home this postseason and 15-7 inside The Peake since the All-Star break. The latter mark has included three straight losses, four by double digits and two by 20 points or more.
EDGE: AT&T Center.