Of all the comparisons the Thunder has drawn to the Spurs, the one that might best fit is one that hasn't gotten much attention.
It's James Harden and Manu Ginobili, the left-handed shooting guards for both teams who will face off Friday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“As players, yes, there are some similarities,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “They both are talented players. They both play a winning style of basketball and they seem to make big plays.”
Harden, the Thunder's sixth man who is now in his third season, is averaging 17.1 points on 48.5 percent shooting and 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals.
Ginobili, in his third season with the Spurs, is averaging 16 points on 47.1 percent shooting and 4.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.6 steals.
“The thing I love about James is his energy off the bench ... that mirrors Manu in '05 and '07 when he was coming off the bench for us, and he was phenomenal,” said Sean Elliot, who won a title with San Antonio in 1999 and now serves as the team's color commentator.
“And with Harden, I don't know where he all of a sudden became a playmaker. I think it was last year during the playoffs. I watched him all of last year and the year before that and I didn't see any shades of what I'm seeing now. The last game we played against him in Oklahoma City, I told my crew, ‘I've never seen this guy play like this, where he's making plays, or he's running the screen and roll, or he's turning the corner, or he's hiding behind that screen and shooting.'”
It's that savvy that makes the two so similar.
“He's got a lot of savvy,” Elliott said of Harden. “He's got a lot of playmaking abilities, and that's something I hadn't seen in his game in the first two years.”
Both also have shown an incredible ability to make something out of nothing.
“They just have a knack for getting inside the defense,” said Brooks. “You think you have them stopped and there's a slight window or opening and they seem to get through it and get to the rim or get fouled. They're both clever players.”