10 Notes, Facts, Figures, and Match-ups Worth Paying Attention To In The Western Conference Semifinals
1. Lakers Big Three: Against the Thunder, Kobe Bryant performed the worst against the Northwest Division champs. Although he averaged 24.3 points in the series, he shot 30.7% from the field scored a total of 73 points on 75 shots. When your total amount of points is less than the shots you take, that is a bad sign. Matching up again with Thabo Sefolosha, who has been successful defending Bryant in the past, expect more of the same quantity-over-quality performances from Kobe. In this series, the Lakers’ best option is to force the issue inside by feeding Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Gasol averaged 18.3 points and 9.9 rebounds in the series, and shot the ball well at 46.5%. Bynum also played well, averaging 16.3 points with 11 rebounds per game, shooting 44% himself.
2. Lakers Bench: Simply put, the Lakers bench this season has been horrible as the second unit finished last in the league in scoring at just 21.2 points per game and an overall differential of -9 points per game. Against Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and the rest of the Thunder’s second unit, the Laker reserves need to step up. Jordan Hill has been the only bright spot off the pine in these playoffs, as Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy are yet to see time on the floor. Meanwhile Steve Blake and Matt Barnes also have underperformed against the Nuggets high-octane second unit that could be a precursor to the success, or lack thereof, the Lakers will have against the Thunder.
3. Thunder Big Men: For the Thunder to assert dominance over the Lakers truly, the interior fortification must hold up against Bynum, Gasol, and the rebounding of Hill. Tasked with that role will be Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison. With the success Gasol and Bynum had against the Thunder this season, Scott Brooks’ bigs need to step up and prevent either player from going off in the paint.
4. Derek Fisher: For the first time in his career, Fish will face the Lakers in the playoffs wearing a uniform other than the purple and gold. Since the Thunder acquired him, Fisher has been the next option off the bench after James Harden. What Fisher brings to the table is not only his ability to hit big shots, but also the knowledge of the Lakers’ schemes and tendencies he will impart to the Thunder, especially on Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum.
5. Thunder Bench: Obviously Harden will lead the reserves with his average of 18.3 points per game, but how will the rest of the Thunder’s bench perform? The Thunder’s second unit ranked 16th in scoring at 31.7 points per game, but played well defensively as they posted an overall differential of +4.1 points per game while on the floor. Ensuring the Lakers do not go on any extended scoring runs will be paramount to the Thunder taking the series when Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook take a breather.
6. Dueling Dynamic Duos: The headline matchup here is between Tony Parker/Tim Duncan and Chris Paul/Blake Griffin. Between the two games Parker did play, his defense on Paul resulted in CP3 shooting 9/29 in the two games and had a net plus/minus rating of -37. To contrast, in the game Parker missed, Paul scored 36 points on 12/20 shooting, dished out 11 assists, and had a plus/minus of +14. In the post, Griffin and Duncan are the two players many look forward to seeing square off. In the season series, Griffin outplayed Duncan in each game, averaging 20.7 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, featuring a 22 point, 20 rebound performance in the meeting in February. Duncan on the other hand averaged only 12.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in the series. These numbers are decent enough, but not substantial enough to counter what Griffin will do.
7. Manu Ginobili vs. Nick Young: Against the Clippers this season, Ginobili proved to be a difference-maker, averaging 16 points per game. In Game 1 of the series, in a starting role, Ginobili scored 24 points, and 22 in the final meeting off the bench. An outlier here is the two points Ginobili scored in February when he played 18 minutes off the bench and took only three shots. Nick Young, a mid-season acquisition of the Clippers, will hope to counter Ginobili’s scoring prowess. So far in these playoffs, Young has proven he can do that, most notably with his 19-point performance in the Clippers’ 24-point comeback victory against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1.
8. Battle of the Benches: Manu vs. Young is only the tip of the iceberg in what will decide whether the series goes seven games or just five—maybe even four. San Antonio’s bench was the best in the league this year, averaging 42.1 points per game and the highest differential of any second unit in the league at +14.7. With DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson, Gary Neal, and Manu provide Head Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich with an array of weapons to fortify the team when the starters take a rest. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro also has some weapons at his disposal with the veteran experience of Kenyon Martin, speed of Eric Bledsoe, rebounding/toughness of Reggie Evans, and the scoring of Mo Williams.
9. Rested or Rusty?: It will be interesting to see how the Spurs have maintained their level of preparation in the lull they have enjoyed between the end of their series and the start of their new one against the Clippers. Especially against a team that plays fast under the direction of CP3, the Spurs will need to be sharp from the get-go.
10. Veteran savvy vs. Inexperience: Beyond the experience of players like Chris Paul, Kenyon Martin, and Mo Williams, most of the players on the Clippers have little to no experience in the playoffs. The Spurs on the other hand also have some very inexperienced players on their roster in terms of playoff service, but also have the elder statesmen of Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan who have won three rings together to guide the youngsters through their first playoff run.
Predictions: Oklahoma City over Lakers in 5, San Antonio over Clippers in 5