OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — When asked about the oldie-but-goodie San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant inquired about Tony Parker’s age.
“Thirty-two,” a reporter answered.
“He is old,” Durant quipped, drawing laughter. “He doesn’t play like he’s 32 years old.”
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are even older. Duncan just turned 38 and Ginobili is approaching 37. The trio won its first NBA title together in 2003 and fought back Father Time to reach the NBA Finals last year. They will play in their seventh Western Conference finals together, starting with Game 1 Monday night in San Antonio.
Durant, the league’s MVP, said there’s more to San Antonio’s success than some mythical fountain of youth. It starts with the genius of Gregg Popovich, the league’s Coach of the Year.
“Their system, they plug guys in and out,” Durant said. “They always stick to their same system. They get guys who fit. And they’ve got a great coach who gets those guys prepared.”
Even with an aging core and numerous injuries throughout the season, the Spurs finished with the league’s best record. They did it with consistency and teamwork that has continued in the playoffs. San Antonio is shooting 49 percent from the field as a team in the postseason, with no player averaging 20 points.
Oklahoma City counters with dynamic individual play from a pair of 25-year-olds. Durant is averaging 31.4 points and 9.5 rebounds in the playoffs. Russell Westbrook is averaging 26.6 points, 8.4 assists and 8.0 rebounds in postseason play.
Westbrook, in particular, has San Antonio’s attention. While Durant’s play has been typical, Westbrook has improved significantly as a floor general during the playoffs.
“He’s an incredible talent having a great playoff run,” Duncan said. “Some incredible numbers. Just an impressive athlete when you try to stay in front of him. His confidence is there.”
The Thunder will be without Serge Ibaka, who led the league in blocked shots. The mobile, athletic forward injured his left calf in Game 6 of the conference semifinal against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“It’s hard, but we’re going to move on,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. “We’re a very prideful organization and team. We’re going to move on.”
Here are five things to watch in the series:
THUNDER DOMINANCE: Oklahoma City won all four regular-season meetings with San Antonio this season, so the Spurs will take nothing for granted, even with Ibaka out.
“You never get overconfident in that situation, especially against a team that we haven’t beat this year,” Ginobili said. “We know how talented they are. They can really score in bunches. Very athletic, strong, play good defense. So, no, we’re not going to get overconfident for sure.”
IBAKA’S REPLACEMENT: Oklahoma City rookie Steven Adams is the most likely to see a spike in minutes. Veteran Nick Collison will play more, too. The Thunder could go with a smaller lineup at times and play Durant as a power forward. Coach Scott Brooks still wouldn’t say Sunday who would start in Ibaka’s place.
PARKER’S HAMSTRING: San Antonio was likely to have significant help on Westbrook anyway, but Parker’s strained left hamstring could be a major problem against Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, two of the most athletic point guards in the league. Parker said Sunday that the hamstring was still tight, but he plans to play. Jackson said the Thunder will test Parker early.
LEONARD vs. DURANT: Brooks said Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard is an All-Star in the making. The Spurs feel Leonard is the best equipped player in the league to bother Durant because of his length and energy.
“As good as anybody can do it,” Ginobili said. “We are lucky to have him. Nobody can guard him (Durant) 1-on-1. That’s been proven — he’s the MVP — but you can put him in some trouble, and then the team has to respond.”
SPURS OTHER GUYS: One thing that makes the Spurs dangerous is their depth. Though Parker, Duncan and Ginobili are the best-known players, Leonard, Marco Belinelli, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills all play their roles well and are capable of being difference makers in the right situation. Oklahoma City will need to prevent the other guys from having breakout nights.