Most Important Player: San Antonio Spurs
Jack Maloney (@jmaloney9): Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard is going to have the unenviable task of guarding Kevin Durant in this series, and that makes him the Spurs’ most important player. Durant is going to score, no one can shut him down completely, but if Leonard can do a job similar what Tony Allen did in the first round, that’s a huge win for the Spurs.
Sam Kuperman (@samkoop): Tim Duncan
At the ripe young age of 38 years old, Duncan is proving that he can still hang with the best of them as his Spurs once again look to make a championship run. The Big Fundamental has averaged 15.8 points 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks over the course of the playoffs and will need to continue providing that type of production against the Thunder.
Now especially, as Serge Ibaka is out for the rest of the postseason for OKC, Duncan will need to be a force up front. If Duncan can take care of business, that will make life a lot easier for the rest of his teammates as it will be tough for San Antonio to score enough to keep up with KD and company.
Most Important Player: Oklahoma City Thunder
JM: Kevin Durant
I’m not breaking new ground with this pick or anything, but when you have the MVP on your team, he’s your most important player. Sure, Nick Collison and Steven Adams will have to step up with Serge Ibaka out, and Russell Westbrook is a vital piece to the Thunder’s success, but none of it matters without Durant. Game 6 against the Clippers in which he took over in the second half, leading the Thunder to a series clinching win is a prime example of his importance to this team. With OKC going in shorthanded against the ageless Spurs, he’s going to have to perform like that almost every night. For a lesser player, that would be a difficult order, but for Kevin Durant, it’s just another night’s work.
SK: Losing Ibaka is certainly a major blow to the Thunder and its championship aspirations. If OKC wants to get past the Spurs Durant needs to take over, and I mean TAKE OVER! I’m talking about taking over like he did in January, when he averaged 35.9 points per game despite the fact that Russell Westbrook was sidelined with a knee injury. San Antonio does defend very well, but Durant will have to overcome that and keep constantly attacking the rim.
Westbrook will need to play well also, but Durant cannot settle for shots and/or defer to other teammates. It doesn’t matter if he is 1-20 from the field one night, the series and Oklahoma City’s title hopes now fall exclusively on Durant’s shoulders.
Don’t Overlook _______________?
JM: Tony Parker’s health
Serge Ibaka is out for the series, and that’s a huge blow for the Thunder. But the Spurs’ point guard, Tony Parker, is also dealing with an injury. He suffered a hamstring strain in the previous series against the Blazers, but will still be able to play. However, while he isn’t sideline from his injury, it will still bother him. We saw the effect last year in the Finals when Parker suffered a similar injury. Being less than 100 percent is never good, but will be even more of a factor going up against the über-athletic Russell Westbrook.
SK: Tony Parker’s injury
Parker is suffering from a Grade 1 left hamstring strain, which limited him to 10 minutes in San Antonio’s 102-84 Game 5 win over Portland on Wednesday. While Parker will take the floor for game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, this is still something to keep an eye on.
If you think back to last year’s NBA Finals Parker was dealing with a Grade 2 hamstring strain. Parker was effective against Miami last June, but Parker really struggled with the injury at times. In a Game 3 blowout loss to the Heat last year Parker scored a mere 6 points in 27 minutes as he only attempted 5 shots. Parker says this injury is not as severe as last year’s, but it still has the potential to slow him down on the court. That is certainly something San Antonio cannot afford, as the Spurs will rely on Parker to contain Westbrook and lead the charge on the offensive end.
JM: OKC in 7
SK: OKC in 7
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