Most Important Player: Oklahoma City Thunder
Jack Maloney (@jmaloney9): Kevin Durant
Of course it’s Kevin Durant. Who else would it be? KD may be under the BasedGod’s curse, but that curse doesn’t work to well when he matches up with the Clippers. For as good as the Clippers are, they don’t really have anyone that can guard Durant. In four regular season games against the Clips, Durant averaged 32/5/8 on 44 percent shooting. Don’t be surprised if he drops a few forty-balls this round.
Matthew Hochberg (@MatthewHochberg): Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has received criticism of late due to his shot-selection and unwillingness to hand the ball off to soon-to-be-named MVP Kevin Durant, but the athletic point guard must compromise in order for the Thunder to have any chances of advancing.
Sonny Giuliano (@SonnyCG): Scotty Brooks
I’m turning this question into Most Important Individuals, and selecting Doc Rivers and Scotty Brooks. Scott Brooks has been busy doing nothing but saying, “I like the sound that Kevin and Russell make when their banjos are dueling” since the playoffs started. And that’s not good enough.
Sam Kuperman (@samkoop): Caron Butler
After trailing Memphis 3-2 in its first round series, Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks made a bold move by inserting Caron Butler into the starting lineup to replace Thabo Sefalosha. This move proved to be the right one as the Thunder came back to win the final two games and move on.
While Butler is no longer the all-star caliber player he was with the Wizards back in the day, he is still a solid starter who can be a good fourth or fifth option on offense for OKC. If Butler can consistently provide double digit scoring for the Thunder that will be huge in attempting to keep up with the Clippers high powered offense.
Mike Wesson (@iamWessson): Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka has to be the x-factor for OKC to win this series. There will always continue to be backlash about the Harden trade from a few years ago as management decided Ibaka over Harden. His defense will need to be on par as well, as he has to defend Blake Griffin.
Most Important Player: Los Angeles Clippers
JM: Blake Griffin
Of course Chris Paul is always important, but the most important player in this series for the Clippers is Blake Griffin. He’s going up against a very good defender in Serge Ibaka, and if Ibaka is able to slow him down, that will be a huge advantage for the Thunder. Blake’s vastly improved his offensive game this year, and he’ll have to use all of his abilities to get buckets against Ibaka and the Thunder
MW: J.J. Redick
J.J. Redick’s significance on the court may tend to get overlooked due to the star-powered lineup of the Clippers, but don’t forget about the shooter’s importance in Los Angeles. His ability to knock down shots and catch fire frees up space on the court, allowing Chris Paul to drive to the lane and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to dominate the paint.
SG: Doc Rivers
I’m turning this question into Most Important Individuals, and selecting Doc Rivers and Scotty Brooks. This is why Doc Rivers replaced Vinny Del Negro… to have a huge advantage in the coaching matchups in the later rounds of the playoffs. Doc Rivers has navigated his team through one of the biggest NBA crises ever and gotten maximum effort and output from just about every guy on the roster.
SK: Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has transformed himself from just a high flyer to one of the best power forwards in the league. He has done a superb job of combining his athletic style of play with an improved jump shot and the ability to distribute as well. He will be tested plenty throughout this series as Serge Ibaka is sure to challenge Griffin plenty every time he touches the ball.
If Griffin and the Clippers want to advance past the Thunder he will need to prove that he is no longer just a guy that can throw down lobs. He has stepped up plenty thus far; he just needs to continue doing what he has been doing this year.
MW: Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford is my pick for the Clippers. The newly crowned 6th Man of the Year will have to provide the scoring punch off the bench regardless of the position the team is in once he enters the game. And if he can do it in crunch time? Even better.
Don’t Overlook ____________:
JM: The Thunder’s relief to be rid of the Grizzlies
The Thunder have finally vanquished the Grizzlies, and that’s a huge weight off their collective shoulders. The Clippers are a more talented team than the Grizz, but they just don’t bother the Thunder in the same way. Look for the Thunder to be much more relaxed than last round.
MH: KD not having to deal with Tony Allen
KD “struggled” through much of the first-round matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies, shooting 40 percent from the field while averaging 20 points per game. Now, however, Tony Allen believes the game will come easy for Durant since he’s not guarding him: “Should be easy for him, a lot easier for him now that I ain’t got to harass him,” Allen said.
SG: DeAndre Jordan’s impact
If DeAndre Jordan continues to play like he did against Golden State I can take the Clippers seriously as a title contender. If that was just an aberration because the Warriors were limited to small ball, then the Clippers ceiling is significantly lower.
SK: Reggie Jackson vs. Darren Collison
Most of the storylines around this series will revolve around the stars on each of these lineups. That being said, the backup point guard matchup in this series could prove to be huge. For the Thunder Reggie Jackson has become one of the best sixth men in the league. He has improved his game mightily as he has filled in nicely for Westbrook when he has missed time this year with knee injuries.
As for the Clippers Darren Collison fits in well with the team and does a great job of both spelling CP3 and playing alongside him when Doc Rivers chooses to break out that kind of lineup. The bottom line is that while Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook will be the two point guards mentioned the most in this series; it’s Jackson and Collison that could prove to be the difference makers.
MW: The bench matchup
The bench is the key for both teams. The question will be that if one teams starters get in foul trouble which bench will be able to control or provide the necessary energy to keep their respective teams in the game and the series.
JM: OKC in 7
MH: LAC in 7
SG: OKC in 7
SK: LAC in 6
MW: LAC in 7