How do NBA fans like their Western Conference winners: seasoned or unripe?
Whatever their tastes, their palates will be watering heavily like the Niagara Falls once they tip-off game one in Texas.
The San Antonio Spurs will attempt to capture past glories as they head into the Western Conference Finals with the moniker as the aging veteran squad. They will attempt to show the world that age is just a state of mind in the NBA, as they push forward in their quest to garner their fifth title since 1999.
Opposing them is a team whose superstars would still be carded if they ever tried to purchase liquor at a super market. The baby faces of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden will hope they are mature enough to shock all the pundits and earn the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals since 1996, when they were the Seattle Supersonics.
Ironically enough, both teams will be entering this series following triumphs over foes in the previous round whose credentials are similar to their current opponents.
The Spurs are coming off a sweep in the second round as they dominated an up-and-coming Los Angeles Clippers team. Tim Duncan and company illustrated to the public that they were not afraid to speed up the tempo of the game, a characteristic that many felt would favor “Lob City”.
On the other side of the bracket, the Los Angeles Lakers evaporated quickly with each game that commenced against the Thunder. Post season veterans Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum were taken back to school by Oklahoma City, as they were thumped out of the playoffs with only one measly win in the second round.
Now, both franchises enter this stage with the hope that their opposition’s description will be the reason they eclipse the four-win mark.
If experience is the key to advancing to the NBA Finals, then the Thunder better hope they can find a way to pick the lock.
Despite having been in the post season the past three years, the three faces of Oklahoma City’s franchise (Durant, Westbrook, and Harden) have only scratched the surface in comparison to the playoff resume of San Antonio’s three-headed monster (Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili). Not having the credentials for over a decade like the Spurs have could be what forces the Thunder to miss out on a championship berth.
Although Oklahoma City will be entering the Western Conference Finals with a level of immaturity, they are not treading in unfamiliar territory. This will be their second straight appearance at this stage in the playoffs and they will use the painful memory of last year’s defeat against the Dallas Mavericks as motivation to push them across the finish line.
There is a hunger burning deep inside the Thunder, with a trip to the NBA Finals being their Snickers candy bar.
San Antonio understands that they have their own personal emptiness that can only be eliminated by advancing in the playoffs. That path to fulfillment will require them to overcome a huge mountain in order to reach that pinnacle.
The Spurs have yet to face adversity this postseason, as they have easily disposed of immature opponents like the Clippers and the Utah Jazz. The problem is that while both teams are young, they were very limited with their style of play, which San Antonio exposed in each playoff game.
Oklahoma City may be just as young as those two squads, but are more well-rounded and versatile than both. As they were able to demonstrate in the series against the Lakers, they can push the tempo for 48 minutes or slow it down in their half-court sets. The Thunder will be game planning for San Antonio with a mindset similar to the way they attacked in their second round series.
Duncan’s squad will carry with them a chip that has been sitting atop their shoulder for years. They are in the longest drought without a title since the start of their four-championship run in 1999 and will be foaming at the mouth to make this the season they raise their fifth title banner in the AT&T Center. Mix in the fact that their leaders are reaching the end of their careers (Duncan is 36 and Ginobili is 34), and they understand that this could be their last chance at a winner for their dynasty.
The contrast of personnel, history, and ascension through the playoffs among the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs makes this battle a scintillating affair that fans can’t wait to consume. Although no one on either side of the discussion will be drunk with the idea that they have the better team, one will savor success with each win they are able to gulp down.
Until then, everyone will wonder if triumph tastes like a glass of wine that’s been aged over time or like a recently concocted, mixed-liquor drink that’s taken in a shot glass.