Regularly throughout the NBA playoffs, we’ll be checking in with former Raptors head coach Butch Carter for an insider’s perspective on the X’s and O’s that lead to W’s and L’s. Today, Coach Carter looks ahead to break down the Eastern and Western Conference finals.
Spurs vs. Thunder
Much is made of Oklahoma City’s 4-0 record against San Antonio this season, but it’s more important to look further back and recognize that the Thunder are the last team, save for Miami, to knock the Spurs out of the playoffs, which they did two years ago en route to the Finals.
A big reason for that success has been the fact that Russell Westbrook, because of his quickness and size, is the toughest matchup for Tony Parker in the Western Conference. But when these two teams met in that conference finals two seasons ago, the Thunder also employed a Hack-a-Shaq strategy to get Tiago Splitter to the line, and that disrupted the Spurs’ rhythm.
Oklahoma City is clearly talented enough to beat San Antonio, but here’s the caveat: Serge Ibaka needs to be healthy. If he’s not, it will raise issues for the Thunder, particularly when it comes to free-throw attempts and the ability to get to the line as OKC’s other two bigs—Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams—both have high fouls-per-minutes played numbers.
Adams is an interesting player. He has a natural talent for antagonizing guys, and I’ve likened him to Bill Laimbeer in that regard. However, I don’t believe his talents will play to the same advantage against San Antonio that they did against the Clippers, and that’s for one reason: Tim Duncan. I think Adams, like most young bigs, simply respects Duncan too much to play that way. But we’ll find out conclusively as soon as the series starts. We’ll also know what kind of whistles Duncan will get, which should have a big impact on how the rest of the series plays out, particularly if Serge Ibaka is limited or unavailable, forcing Adams and Perkins to fill his shoes.
You see, all good teams have what I call “sacrifice guys.” For OKC, their sacrifice guys have been Perkins, Adams, and Thabo Sefolosha. All crucial, hard-working players, but you can’t replace a primary guy like Ibaka with a sacrifice guy when matching up against a Hall of Fame player like Duncan.
As for San Antonio, it’s relatively simple: the Spurs need to protect home court. Both teams play outstanding in their own gyms, but San Antonio worked all year to earn this advantage. Now they have to capitalize on it to avoid putting Oklahoma City in a position of leverage in the series.
Everybody knows that, with a player like Durant on the roster, the Thunder are more than capable of stealing a road win. But if you’re the Spurs, you absolutely cannot let OKC win two in your gym.
Pacers vs. Heat
The best way for Miami to overcome Indiana’s apparent size advantage is to play small. That will leave Chris Bosh on Hibbert, and Bosh’s ability to make shots in this series is the key factor.
The Heat are at their most versatile when Bosh is making shots at the five position, which means the opposing centre cannot protect the paint. That leaves Dwyane Wade and LeBron James more wiggle room to move around.
Bosh’s success in Miami is directly related to Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley’s ability to recognize that he needs to adapt to the players around him. I don’t think Bosh was ever a go-to player, he didn’t ever quite have that game, but he would make for a strong second option. It’s an interesting situation playing out in the east finals, because if Chris Bosh has a great series against Indiana, I think there’s a distinct chance he opts out of his contract this summer.
With home court advantage in their favour, the window of opportunity is open for Indiana. But the Pacers’ problem is that they have exhibited the traits of a young team: at times irresponsible, especially in games at home, their basketball skills failing to match their emotions.
That being said, toward the end of the regular season they played very well at home against Miami. And Frank Vogel’s job will actually be a little easier in some ways against the Heat because they don’t have a fast point guard— a John Wall-type. When you look at what Washington did, a lot of it began with the ability of their point guard to take the basketball wherever he wanted.
Both of these teams were built to win off of their defence, and Indiana has one of the best wing defenders in the league in Paul George. He’s got tremendous length and quickness, and the league respects him as a defender. So do the zebras.
If Indiana wants to win this series—something I think they can do—they have to set the same goal as San Antonio and protect their home-court advantage. Generally, if you lose two home games, you lose the series. They can’t lose two at home.
For more insight and analysis on the NBA playoffs, follow Coach Carter on Twitter @TOButchCarter