No. 1 San Antonio vs. No. 2 Oklahoma City
Why the Spurs will win in seven: The Thunder had ramped up a wave of momentum after rallying for consecutive comeback wins to eliminate the Los Angeles Clippers and record their third Western Conference final appearance in the past four years, only to receive the stunning news that Thunder forward Serge Ibaka will likely miss the rest of the postseason with a strained calf. Without Ibaka, slowing Tim Duncan in the paint will be that much harder for the Thunder, as they battle a Spurs team bent on returning to the NBA Finals following last year’s implosion against Miami.
Difference maker: Russell Westbrook, Thunder. Per usual, the playoffs have been a battle of “Good Russ” vs. “Bad Russ,” with the Thunder’s championship hopes hanging on every turn. With Ibaka out, Westbrook’s ability to continue flirting with triple-doubles and his efforts to stop Tony Parker from slicing into the lane are all the more important. That said, Westbrook’s elevated production must remain in rhythm with the team, and he must keep MVP Kevin Durant involved in the offense.
Key matchup: Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard. It’s no secret that the Thunder’s length could be a problem for the Spurs, mainly in the form of the 6-foot-11 Durant, whose sweet stroke from the outside and long-armed swoops into the lane led to four Thunder victories in their regular-season meetings with the Spurs. In those wins, however, Durant averaged six turnovers. Leonard will look to further neutralize the MVP by swarming Durant off the ball and attacking him on the offensive end.