By Jeff McDonald
The Western Conference finals are sure to bring about comparisons between a pair of super subs: Oklahoma City’s James Harden and the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili.
Both are left-handed. Both have NBA Sixth Man of the Year awards on their mantles. Both play with a herky-jerky style that can be murder to defend.
Harden, however, is the one with The Beard.
“Mine doesn’t get that good,” Ginobili said. “I’ve tried.”
One other key difference between the two: only Harden will enter Game 1 on Sunday with soaring confidence.
Ginobili is coming off his second straight poor-shooting series, going 17 for 42 in the second-round sweep of the Los Angeles Clippers.
That included a 6-for-21 showing from 3-point range that dropped his playoff percentage to 25.7 percent (9 of 35).
Asked after practice Wednesday to gauge his confidence level in his jump shot, Ginobili said: “Not the best it’s been.”
“I wasn’t worried against Utah (in the first round), because I didn’t take many (shots),” Ginobili said. “Against the Clippers, I took a few open, and they didn’t go in.”
Despite his shooting woes, Ginobili is averaging 12.8 points, 4.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds in the playoffs. Harden, 22, is averaging 19.1 points, five boards and 3.1 assists off the bench for the Thunder.
For the second time in this postseason, Ginobili is hopeful the start of a new series will change his luck.
“This is a whole new story, a new series, and we don’t care about what happened against Utah or the Clippers,” Ginobili said. “Hopefully, I start off on the right foot.”
Can’t block the truth: Thunder players were thrilled to learn Wednesday that forward Serge Ibaka had been voted to the NBA’s All-Defensive first team by the league’s 30 head coaches.
The notion Ibaka might not have made the first team after leading the league in blocked shots seemed impossible for some players to contemplate.
“Serge was first team?” said teammate Nazr Mohammed, a former Spurs center. “Well, duh. If he wasn’t, then it would have been a travesty.”
Ibaka averaged 3.65 blocks during the regular season, netting double figures three times. Though it wasn’t a factor in All-Defensive team balloting, the 6-foot-10 Ibaka has also logged 33 blocks in nine playoff games so far.
Ibaka’s case for first team was simple, Mohammed said.
“He affects the game without scoring a bucket, and guys like that are first-team All-Defense,” Mohammed said.
Russell Westbrook went even further in his praise of Ibaka’s defensive work.
“I feel he should have been Defensive Player of the Year,” the Thunder’s All-Star point guard said of the award, voted on by media, that went to New York center Tyson Chandler.
Honorable mention: The Spurs did not place a player on the first or second All-Defensive team for the third consecutive season.
Tim Duncan landed in the “also receiving votes” category, garnering five points, including one first-team vote.
Staff writer Mike Monroe contributed to this report.
SPURS VS. THUNDER
Western Conference finals (best-of-7)
Game 1: Sunday – Spurs vs. Thunder, 7:30 p.m. TNT
Game 2: Tuesday – Spurs vs. Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT
Game 3: Thursday May 31 – Spurs @ Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT
Game 4: Saturday June 2 – Spurs @ Thunder, 7:30 p.m. TNT
*Game 5: Monday June 4 – Spurs vs. Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT
*Game 6: Wednesday June 6 – Spurs @ Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT
*Game 7: Friday June 8 – Spurs vs. Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT
– All times Central