Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant are four wins away from advancing to the NBA Finals.The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs begin their Western Conference Finals series tonight, the second time in the last three seasons that they have met in this round.
Back in 2012, the Thunder defeated the Spurs in six games in the Conference Finals, winning the final four games after losing the first two. What are the key storylines heading into this year's matchup?
Impact of Ibaka’s injury
Serge Ibaka will miss the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury, leaving the Thunder with a big hole in the middle.
Thunder This Postseason
With Serge Ibaka On/Off Court
How much will Ibaka’s absence hurt the Thunder against the Spurs?
The Thunder are eight points better per 48 minutes this postseason with Serge Ibaka on the court compared to when Ibaka has been on the bench.
The two played on the floor together for 16 minutes in Game 6 and the Thunder outscored the Clippers by 16 when Collison and Adams shared the floor. Prior to Game 6, Collison and Adams had played on the floor together for just 33 minutes this postseason.
With or without Ibaka, the Spurs were likely going to put the Thunder's interior defense to the test. According to NBA.com Player Tracking Data, the Spurs have been one of the best teams getting the ball inside during the playoffs.
The Spurs are averaging 28.1 drives per game this postseason, third-most in the NBA. The Spurs are also averaging 19.2 "close" touches (within 12 feet of basket) per game this postseason, second-most in the NBA.
San Antonio was one of the most efficient teams around the basket during the regular season, shooting 58.1 percent inside the paint, which ranked third in the NBA. But no team slowed them down better than the Thunder. With Serge Ibaka on court, the Spurs shot just 47.1 percent inside the paint.
Thunder regular season sweep
The Thunder took all four meetings against the Spurs in the regular season, winning by an average of nearly 10 points per game.
4-0 or Better vs Opponent in Reg. Season
Met in Conference Finals (All-Time)
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the fourth instance in NBA history where one team was 4-0 or better versus another team in the regular season and then met in the Conference Finals.
Each of the three previous times, the team that swept the regular season won the playoff series as well.
Importance of Game 1
If history is any indicator, the Thunder could be in trouble tonight.
They have lost 10 straight Game 1s on the road, with their last such win coming in the 1992 Western Conference First Round at Golden State. The Spurs have won nine straight Game 1s, the fifth longest streak in NBA history, according to Elias.
The Spurs are 22-4 in best-of-7 series when winning Game 1 in the Gregg Popovich era (6-7 when they don’t); the Thunder have a 5-2 series record when winning Game 1 since moving to OKC (3-2 when they don’t).