San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trailblazers
This is both a tremendously exciting matchup and a disappointing one at the same time. Both of these teams can be explosive on offense, they share the ball, and they like to shoot three-pointers — they’re a ton of fun to watch. And that’s why this is a sad series to deal with — we’re going to lose one of these teams at the end of it.
All that said, there are some intriguing player matchups in this one. Tony Parker vs. Damian Lillard, Tim Duncan vs. LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard vs. Nic Batum. The Blazers and Spurs were fifth and sixth in offensive rating, respectively, and they were both top ten in 3P% (Spurs were first, Blazers were tenth). The difference in this series will come down to depth and defense. The Spurs can go deep at any time, turning to Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, and Marco Belinelli to become difference-makers. The Blazers, meanwhile, rely a lot on Mo Williams off the bench, and he doesn’t get much support elsewhere, save for Thomas Robinson on occasion. Defensively, the Spurs can lock down, too; they finished fourth in defensive rating this season, a number that escapes a lot of people.
San Antonio only looked elite for half of their series with Dallas, but lapses aside, I just can’t see a shallow, young Portland team beating San Antonio four times. Prediction: Spurs in 6.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers
And finally, we’ve arrived at the series most people have been anticipating. The Clippers and Thunder have had their fair share of regular season duels, and finally, we get them head-to-head in the playoffs.
The Clippers, considering all that’s surrounded them with the Donald Sterling mess, have looked focused and steady. They almost fell to the Golden State Warriors, but the Western Conference is so talented and deep, any upset would’ve been understandable. Though Chris Paul has been dealing with a hamstring issue, he looked his best in Game 7, when it mattered most to his team. He’s gotten plenty of supporting help from the likes of Jamal Crawford, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan.
The Thunder have followed a similar trajectory. A competitive series with the Memphis Grizzlies and the shortcomings of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook created a media firestorm around them. How’d they answer back, trailing 3-2? An impressive road win in Memphis for Game 6, followed by a dominant win in Game 7 to the short-handed Grizzlies. For all of the questions surrounding Westbrook and Durant’s cohesiveness, the two combined for 60 points, 18 rebounds, and 18 assists in Game 7 of the first round. The Thunder are an absolutely elite team when both players are comfortable in their respective spheres?
So, how does this all play out on the court? These two teams match up incredibly evenly. The Clippers and Thunder were first and seventh in offensive rating, respectively, and seventh and fifth in defensive rating, respectively. They both shoot the three-pointer well and get to the free throw line a lot. The Clippers will have a harder time staying glued to Westbrook the way they did Steph Curry, and they don’t have an elite wing defender to guard Durant the way the Grizzlies had Tony Allen. However, up-front, the athleticism of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan could cause problems for Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. It’s a toss-up, really, but I’m going to go with the deeper team, despite not having home-court advantage. Prediction: Clippers in 7.