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Thunder-Spurs: Breaking down the matchups

Darnell Mayberry analyzes the position matchups for the Western Conference Finals.
BY DARNELL MAYBERRY Published: May 27, 2012
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POINT GUARD

RUSSELL WESTBROOK VS. TONY PARKER

ANALYSIS: Westbrook is clearly the better scorer. But Parker is smarter, craftier and more experienced. And with Parker possessing the ability to make his teammates better, San Antonio's role players become a much bigger threat. The Spurs might have to worry about Westbrook exploding for 30. But with Parker, the Thunder has to hope the Spurs' floor general doesn't go off for 25 points or more while also setting his teammates up for another 15 to 20 points.


EDGE: Spurs.

SHOOTING GUARD

THABO SEFOLOSHA VS. DANNY GREEN

ANALYSIS: Green is a shooter with range out to the 3-point line. If he gets hot, he could be a difference-maker, as we saw in Oklahoma City on March 16, when he erupted for 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, going 5-of-7 from behind the arc. Sefolosha, though he's been more accurate this season, is a streakier shooter who is looked to more for defense. Sefolosha could have more value in this series if he switches over to Parker and slows the speedy Spurs point guard. But Green is also a capable defender who can make an impact on that end of the floor as well.

EDGE: Spurs.

SMALL FORWARD

KEVIN DURANT VS. KAWHI LEONARD

ANALYSIS: In the regular season meetings, Leonard actually defended Durant admirably. It helped that the rookie could rely on the Spurs' team defense. Durant averaged just 22.7 points on 46.8 percent shooting in three games against the Spurs this season. We doubt those numbers will hold up over a seven-game series. Durant will get his. The key for the Spurs to have any shot in this matchup is for Leonard to make Durant work at the other end. Leonard is a 45.5 percent shooter from 3-point range in the playoffs, and sustained perimeter shooting accuracy by him is the only way this matchup will be close.

EDGE: Thunder.

POWER FORWARD

SERGE IBAKA VS. BORIS DIAW

ANALYSIS: This could the most interesting game within the game that we see throughout this series. Ibaka is the league's best shot-blocker. But Diaw is a big man with inside-outside skills who can suck Ibaka out to the 3-point line. Diaw's versatility can eliminate Ibaka's biggest strength and, thus, reduce the effectiveness of the Thunder's defense. The contrasting styles will go a long way in determining the winner of the series. Whichever player can establish his presence earliest and most often will give his team the advantage.

EDGE: Spurs.

CENTER

KENDRICK PERKINS VS. TIM DUNCAN

ANALYSIS: Duncan enjoyed a surprising renaissance this season, which has transferred into this postseason. He's averaging 17.6 points, nine rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.8 blocked shots while shooting 54 percent… in just 32 minutes per game. He'll be a handful for the Thunder, and Perkins will have to play him one-on-one much like he's done against most every other low-post scorer. The Thunder won't be able to double team Duncan because of the Spurs' stable of shooters lurking on the perimeter for a timely pass. The best the Thunder can hope for is Perkins making Duncan work to get his like Lakers center Andrew Bynum had to do in the previous series.

EDGE: Spurs.

SIXTH MAN

JAMES HARDEN VS. MANU GINOBILI

ANALYSIS: The similarities between these two super subs are obvious. Ginobili has the experience advantage, but Harden has the momentum. Ginobili enters this series averaging just 11.3 points on 40 percent shooting, including a 25.7-percent clip from 3-point range. The Thunder will need Ginobili to struggle with his shot for a little longer to be able to steal one of the first two games in San Antonio. If he gets rolling, however, the Thunder is in trouble.


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