Thunder-Spurs roundtable: Who shoulders the most pressure because of the Serge Ibaka injury?

Four questions for four writers, previewing the Western Conference showdown between the Thunder and Spurs.
by Berry Tramel and Jenni Carlson and Darnell Mayberry and Anthony Slater Modified: May 18, 2014 at 10:54 am •  Published: May 18, 2014


photo - Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) grabs a rebound beside San Antonio's Tim Duncan (21) and Oklahoma City's Andre Roberson (21) during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 3, 2014. Oklahoma City won 106-94. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) grabs a rebound beside San Antonio's Tim Duncan (21) and Oklahoma City's Andre Roberson (21) during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 3, 2014. Oklahoma City won 106-94. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Four questions for four writers, previewing the Western Conference showdown between the Thunder and Spurs:


1. Who shoulders the most pressure because of the Serge Ibaka injury?

Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - Kevin Durant. He's the face of the franchise and, frankly, he hasn't had the best postseason. He's delivered a few great and timely performances. But he's needed Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson to bail him out a few times in these playoffs. That can no longer happen. He'll need to be at his absolute best for the Thunder to get out of this round.

Anthony Slater (beat writer) - In reality, it’s the Spurs. At some point, Tim Duncan will retire and this incredible dynasty will fade. May be as soon as this offseason. So a potentially final title shot is staring them in the face and Ibaka’s injury is paving the way. Can they take advantage? But if you’re asking Thunder-related, I’ll go with Russell Westbrook. He’s been the Thunder’s best player in these playoffs, but now must raise his game higher and do it without his pick and pop safety valve.

Jenni Carlson (columnist) - Scott Brooks. The Thunder coach has to figure out how to best manage the rotations with a key cog sidelined. What’s more, he’s going to need to be able to adjust during the game. That was bound to be the case against the Spurs before Ibaka’s injury, but it’s going to be even more important now. And Brooks has shown regularly that his in-game adjustments are lacking. He’ll need to step it up.

Berry Tramel (columnist) - Kevin Durant. No matter who Scotty Brooks decides to start, here's the lineup you'll see most vs. the Spurs. Durant, Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and probably Caron Butler. That's a heck of an offensive lineup that means Durant is going to have to rebound, he's going to have to interior defend and he can't foul. Durant is accustomed to playing power forward for 10-12 minutes a game. I can see him playing power forward for 30-32 minutes a game in this series.

2. What’s the key matchup the Thunder must win? San Antonio?

Mayberry - For the Thunder, I'll go with the same guy who has the most pressure on him with Ibaka out. Kevin Durant. He has to get the best of Kawhi Leonard, who is a true star in the making. If you think that matchup shouldn't be close that just means you haven't paid attention to Leonard's development. He absolutely is capable of not only slowing down Durant but also going at him at the other end. He could make this a really uncomfortable series for the Thunder. For the Spurs, I'll go with Danny Green over Thabo Sefolosha. Remember the 2012 West Finals? Green flat out disappeared. He scored 20 points the whole series. He was so ineffective that he lost his starting job in the final two games and totaled just eight minutes in those contests. It was the disappointing play of role players like Green that caused that series to get away from the Spurs.

Slater Missing its biggest talent, OKC’s batch of bigs must find a way to at least play the Spurs’ frontline to a draw. And it’s not as tall a task as it seems. Tim Duncan’s still great, but the Thunder just got done battling Randolph and Gasol, then Griffin and Jordan. And OKC held its own. In 2014, those four present bigger issues than Duncan and Splitter. For the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard must flashback to the 2013 NBA Finals. Minus a crucial missed free throw, he was fantastic against the Heat, going toe-to-toe with LeBron. If he can do the same with KD, hard to see San Antonio losing.

Carlson - Point guard for OKC. The Thunder won the point guard matchup during the regular-season games, and it didn’t matter who was playing. Russell Westbrook. Reggie Jackson. Both were very effective against the Spurs. The Thunder is going to need that sort of domination and aggression in this series, and it’s not just on the offensive end. So much of what the Spurs does goes through Tony Parker. The Thunder has to get a handle on that. And for San Antonio, they’re going to need to win the post matchups. With Ibaka out, the Thunder will be scrambling a bit. If the Spurs can take advantage of that with Tim Duncan and an improved Tiago Splitter, that could throw the momentum in their direction.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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by Anthony Slater
Thunder Beat Writer
Anthony Slater started on the Thunder beat in the summer of 2013, joining after two years as NewsOK.com's lead sports blogger and web editor. A native Californian, Slater attended Sonoma State for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State in...
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