Although the Oklahoma City Thunder rent all competition in the Western Conference asunder in their path to the NBA Finals—losing only twice in 15 games—this year’s Western Conference Playoffs featured some of the deepest, most talented competition seen in a postseason since the NBA’s Golden Age during the 1980’s. With that being said, here are two sets of players who performed their best when it mattered most.
Western Conference Playoffs All-Star team: All-Star Version
PG: Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
It’s safe to say that without Parker, the Spurs would not have finished anywhere close to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, nor been able to make a run to the Western Conference Finals where they were defeated in six games by the apple of David Stern’s eye, the Oklahoma City Thunder. If the league’s Most Valuable Player award was given to the player who was actually most valuable to their team, not the one who is most valuable to the league’s image, then Parker would have won hands-down.
In the postseason, Parker solidified that notion. He scored 20.1 ppg on 45.3% shooting, and handed out 6.8 apg at the helm of the league’s best team in terms of ball movement. His best game came in Game 2 of the Conference Finals against OKC, in which he scored 34 points on 16-21 shooting and notched 8 assists in a 120-111 victory, one that unfortunately proved to be the last one of the year for the Spurs. Even in defeat, Parker displayed his ability to penetrate at will and wreak havoc for the opposition, as he did in San Antonio’s season-ending loss in Game 6, scoring 29 points and posting 12 dimes.
SG: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Although someone like James Harden or Manu Ginobili may be a trendy pick at this position, no player at the 2 did more for his team in the postseason. Bryant led all postseason scorers at 30 ppg on 43.9% shooting, and also handed out 4.3 apg while pulling in 4.8 rpg. Despite the Thunder handing the Lakers their second consecutive second-round exit from the postseason, Kobe proved he still has some gas left in the tank and isn’t going away quite yet.
SF: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
This one is pretty obvious. No player in the entire postseason has played any better than the Durantula has. Durant has impacted every game in nearly every area. He not only leads his team in scoring at 27.8 ppg on 50.5%--as well as hitting 36.4% of his three-point attempts—Durant also leads the Thunder in rebounding at 7.9 rpg. Defensively, Durant has made an MVP-caliber impact as well, evidenced by his short spurts of locking down the opposition’s best perimeter scorer, alongside nabbing 1.5 spg and 1.3 bpg.
In addition, his crunchtime heroics against the Mavericks, Lakers, and Spurs have helped Durant become an accredited assassin in the late minutes of ballgames. Without his multiple game-winning performances spanning every one of the series OKC has played, there’s no guaranteeing that the Thunder would be looking at the Heat as their only remaining obstacle to a championship. Also worth bearing in mind is that Durant and Co. has accomplished this all against teams who account for 10 of the NBA’s last 13 championships.
PF: Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
Ibaka is synonymous with blocking. No player in the 2012 playoffs has established himself as a more dominating defensive presence than Ibaka has so far. After leading the league in blocks per game, Ibaka continued to swat shots away at a rate higher than anyone else, 3.3 bpg. Ibaka has also pulled in 5.9 rpg and been a force in helping limit the effectiveness of some of the league’s best post players like Tim Duncan, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Dirk Nowitzki.
Ibaka has also contributed offensively, as his 10.7 points per game is OKC’s fourth-best total, and accomplishes that on 55.6% shooting. His most notable offensive explosion came in Game 4 against San Antonio, when he scored 26 points on perfect shooting from the field, making all 11 of his field goal attempts.
C: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Like Bryant, Duncan proved he still has something left in the tank. In his postseason play, Duncan went up against some of the best young post players in the league in Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson, and came out on top. Duncan averaged 17.4 ppg on 49.5% shooting, 9.4 rpg, and turned away 2.1 shots per game.
West Conference Playoffs All-Star Team: Non-All Star Version
PG: Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
Without a doubt, no player on the Nuggets played a bigger role in pushing the Lakers to the brink of elimination than Ty Lawson. Scoring 19 ppg on 51.4% shooting and handing out 6 apg, in addition to posting the postseason’s best assist-to-turnover ratio at 5.25/1, Lawson gave the entire Laker defense fits in the teams’ first-round matchup with his speed on the fast-break and off pick and rolls.
SG: Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City Thunder
Thabo only averaged 5.5 ppg in this postseason, but his contributions hold weight on the defensive end. In every series, Sefolosha stepped up to lock down the oppositions’ best perimeter players allowing Durant to conserve his energy for the offensive end. Sefolosha’s game-changing defensive abilities were on full display while guarding Kobe Bryant in the semi-finals and Tony Parker during the conference finals. Offensively, Sefolosha shot 36.8% from beyond the arc and hit a number of big corner threes when Russell Westbrook, Harden, or Durant drew defenses onto them.
SF: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Outside of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, Leonard was arguably the best player on the Spurs’ roster this season after being selected No. 15-overall by the Indiana Pacers and then acquired by the Spurs in exchange for George Hill and some meaningless second-round draft rights. In this year’s playoffs, he did not waste the opportunity given to him by Gregg Popovich by stuffing the stat sheet as the starting small forward. Leonard averaged 8.6 ppg on 50% shooting—including 45% from three-point land, 5.9 rpg, and 1.2 spg. Additionally, Leonard’s length and speed gave Pop a great defensive asset against perimeter scorers.
PF: Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder
Like Sefolosha, Collison’s numbers were not flashy at all, as he only averaged 3.4 ppg and 2.9 rpg. However, like Thabo, his contributions lie mostly on the defensive side. Collison gives Scott Brooks a quality defensive option off the bench when he needs to spell Ibaka or Kendrick Perkins. Collison’s 20 minutes of defensive presence per night cannot be overlooked in analyzing how the Thunder were able to conquer the talented frontcourts of the Mavericks, Lakers, and Spurs.
C: JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets
Like Lawson, McGee also gave the Lakers fits in their first-round series. McGee’s length and speed proved to be the necessary counter to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol for Denver coach George Karl, and McGee flourished in the Nuggets’ system based on speed and pace. Playing just 25.9 minutes in the seven-game series, and not starting any of the games, McGee averaged 8.6 ppg and posted the second-highest rebounding average in the Western Conference playoffs at 9.6 rpg. Additionally, McGee created many second chances for the Nuggets by pulling in 3.3 offensive rebounds per game, and assisted in getting the team out in transition by blocking 3.1 shots per game.