SAN ANTONIO – It is easy to get blinded by the gaudy numbers and caught up in the hype.
Thunder vs. Spurs will be “must-see-TV” because of the Big Threes – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden vs. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
But by the time the high-octane, high-thrills, high-name-factor series is complete, the winner will likely be the team whose stars gets as much from what Michael Jordan used to call his “supporting cast.”
Would you believe the Western Conference finals hangs in the battle between Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher vs. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal.
“We expect a lot of different players to change a playoff series,” said Duncan. “It’s going to come down not only to how the main guys play, but also how the role players play.”
The regular season numbers say OKC’s Big Three was the highest-scoring trio in the NBA this season, averaging more than 68 percent of the Thunder’s 103.1 points per game.
The Spurs were the league’s leading scorers at 103.7 points per game, but less than half (46.8 percent) of their production from their Big Three.
The truth is that the Spurs can probably survive a series where Durant, Westbrook and Harden all scorer at the season averages, as high as they may be, as long as Fisher doesn’t dip into the Fountain of Youth to resurrect his offense or the defensive-minded Sefolosha and Ibaka don’t explode.
On the other hand, the Thunder will have to guard against any number of off-Broadway type role players suddenly stepping into the main spotlight for San Antonio. Among the supporting cast, Neal leads the way with a 9.9 scoring average, but the Spurs also have seven other players who scored at a clip of at least 6.6 per game during the regular season. The Spurs’ bench production of 41.9 points per game was No. 1 in the league this season.
Green was the man of the hour in the Spurs sweep of the Clippers, scoring double figures in three out of four games, shooting 18-for-32 from the field and hitting 11 of 23 on 3-pointers.
So far in the playoffs, the Thunder have run up an 8-1 record with Ibaka topping out at 9.8 points a game, followed by Fisher at 6.0 and Sefolosha at 3.9.
So the stars will be out in force and they’ll do plenty of shining before the series is through. But the team that survives will be the one that gets more out of the rest of the roster.