Well, at least one conference is down to its two best teams. The elite contenders in the San Antonio Spurs and The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t only draw on the Western Conference Final marquee. Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker, two of the league’s best guards, stand at odds for their respective clubs road to the Finals. One’s about finesse and following the pass-first tradition of PGs. The other’s the belligerent “I just might dunk on your family just ’cause” firecracker with a huge chip on his shoulder. Their contrasting philosophies on playing the 1 should make for good television for casual fans and hard to please basketball geeks. Yet who’s style will reign supreme?
Russell Westbrook is a “point guard” by obligation, not nature. He’s not interested in becoming the facilitator you want him to be but OKC’s alright with that. His much improved scoring capabilities, from his jumper to his ability to get good looks, has helped his team flourish in the half court. And, to think, we’re a year removed since heads derided Russell for his head-scratching shot selection and inconsistent shooting. Add the fact that he’s a solid on-the-ball defender and on a one on one basis, Tony could be a defensive liability.
You’d think Tony Parker would be outmatched by Russell’s physical spin on small ball but au contraire mon freres. Parker’s ability to get his whole team going while being a sneaky scorer in his own right ought to create plenty of problems for the new Agent Zero. Tony’s easily the best point guard Westbrook will face in his young postseason career. Remember, Parker’s still reaping the benefits of what may be his best season yet.
One thing to mind is how each coach’s defensive strategy will dictate the showdown. Gregg Popovich found great success in double-teaming and trapping Chris Paul whenever the opportunity arose. Paul and ‘brook couldn’t be anymore different from another. Yet, given how Westbrook scores from the foul line extended and in the paint, expect Gregg to employ a similar game plan to disrupt Westbrook’s flow. Conversely, the scheme’s mileage may vary once OKC runs Harden at the point as Westbrook plays 2 guard.
Scott Brooks’s approach to guarding Tony Parker will make or break OKC’s hopes at reaching the Finals. Case in point, anyone who can make dudes like Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter ball out is a bad man. Send double teams his way too often and Parker will just pick them apart. Play him to tight and he still has enough quickness to get around even Russell. Plus let’s not think of the switches that will ensue every time Derek Fisher and Russell Westbrook share the back court. Tony Parker obviously isn’t unstoppable. Still, when it comes to this match up, just be glad you’re not Scotty B. right now.
Now, it’s easy to see how Parker and Westbrook’s duel exceeds the typical “clash” connotations. Their face off holds huge implications for their teams chances at success. Now would be a good time to place your bets on who’ll pull through for their squad. I got my money on Tony since he’s been a critical force in past title runs. Then again, with the helter-skelter nature of this years playoffs, it’s difficult to predict who’ll tip the scales in their favor.