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The Serge Surge: Welcome To Game 5

“Looks like the Spurs left NASTY back in San Antonio.”

That was the text that buzzed my phone during Game 3 of the Spurs/Thunder series while waiting for Snoop Dogg to hit the stage during his SA stop last week.

From my Dad. Longtime basketball coach.  First time text message trash-talker.

No, “Nasty” made the trip from SA, but it spent Game 3 snoozing in the hotel.  And “Nasty” was present for Game 4. At least for three out of four quarters, anyway.

Snoop  Dogg

Snoop Dogg had a much better night in SA than Manu and the Spurs had the same night in OKC. Courtesy: StudioMV3/AlamoCityTimes.com

Good thing Backstage Live had a solid lineup of TV flatscreens to watch the game.  Bad thing was actually watching Game 3.  It looked a lot like the Spurs had some of Snoop’s famous Gin & Juice mixed in with into the Gatorade jugs.

Perhaps the first sign that perhaps the Spurs trip to Oklahoma City was not in favor with the Karma Kouncil came via the Facebook timeline of KSAT-12 Photographer Adam Higgins when he posted this photo of his Western Conference Finals Game 3 media pass:

Media misspelling

No wonder nobody on the Thunder PR staff was one of the participants in last week's National Spelling Bee. Courtesy: Adam Higgins/Facebook

If the Thunder media staff needed help spelling SAN ANTONIO, all they needed to do was ask for one of the allowed Spelling bee hints. You know, like “Can you use it in a sentence?”
“SAN ANTONIO, a city where the Thunder hope not to play Game 7.”

Durant

Game 4 might be remembered as the time when Kevin Durant went from "Really Good" to "Great". Courtesy: Brett Deering/Getty Images

But aside from the Spurs’ lost weekend, and subsequent fall from national grace, these are the things to take from the Thunder’s impressive holding of their home serve:

1. The close-out magic Kevin Durant unleashed in a 16-consecutive point fury in Game 4 is exactly what you should expect from the Durantula.  That is how a 3-time scoring champ takes a choke hold on a game and refuses to let his team lose.  That kind of shot making, and shot taking is the norm.  Shooting just a total of 5 times combined in the 4th quarters for Games 1 and 2, like Durant did in San Antonio, is not.

Durant

Kevin Durant closed out Game 4 as Lebron wishes he could for the Heat. Courtesy: Nate Billings/The Oklahoman

2. If Serge Ibaka is going to roll perfect 11′s from the field, I want to ride that kind of hot hand at a Vegas craps table.  But if SA doesn’t remind Serge Ibaka he’s supposed to shoot like Serge Ibaka, the Spurs have won their last game of the year.

Even Durant was surprised by the perfection in Ibaka’s 26-point night when asked immediately after Game 4: “You mean he didn’t miss?!?”, said a shocked KD to TNT’s Craig Sager.

Ibaka

Each game that Serge Ibaka plays a game without missing a shot is also another game the Spurs lose to OKC. Courtesy: Nate Billings/The Oklahoman

Still, the Spurs and Gregg Popovich should be embarrassed by Ibaka’s explosion.  It got old watching after the first five Ibaka slashes to the basket ended in jams. Yet Serge kept surging.  The Spurs should sag on Serge from the field.  But that doesn’t mean SA’s defense can lose track of him. And now all those early dunks in Game 4 sent Ibaka to the Zone of Perfection, meaning his confidence was unbound shooting from anywhere in the arena.  Ibaka even went all Dr. J by blowing by Tim Duncan and soaring above the rim for a cuffed-ball tomahawk dunk.

Ibaka

Serge Ibaka surges well beyond the rim in his best Dr. J dunking pose. Courtesy: Nate Billings/The Oklahoman

3.  The small lineup for the Spurs has lost its muscle, and SA’s muscle has lost their production.  Remember that Game 1 stat that had the Spurs nearly doubling OKC, 50-26, with points in the paint? That’s long gone.  The Thunder’s BIG 3 of Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison have flexed and fought their way to ruling the inside point production battle.

Perkins on Duncan

Tim Duncan is going to need SA's bigs to give him help against Kendrick Perkins and the Thunder's BIG 3. Courtesy: Nate Billings/The Oklahoman

Duncan had a solid Game 4 after looking like the DNP-OLD Timmy in Game 3.  But Duncan’s nearly a solo show for SA down low.  Tiago Splitter isn’t scaring OKC from putting smaller guys to guard him while Thabo Sefolosha and Ibaka chase Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.  Boris Diaw made a couple of big 3-balls, but not inside.  Matt Bonner’s first 3-point shot he made in Game 2 is still the only basket the Red Rocket has made in all four games.

Thabo on Tony

Thabo Sefolosha put Tony Parker and the Spurs pick-and-roll offense in check during Game 3 and 4. Courtesy: Layne Murdock/Getty Images

4.  What’s Pop’s counter move to Scotty Brooks’ defensive switch which has stuffed the Spurs pick-and-roll? Start Manu?  Hope not, since the 2nd quarters in Game 3 and 4 have seen the Thunder create separation.  Pop can’t cut off Ginobili’s scoring production or even the threat of him scoring, further stalling a stuck 2nd quarter offense.  What about more Dejuan Blair time? That’s doable.  The Thunder have also flipped the rebounding edge in their favor.  No second chance shots for SA.  Tons of extra cracks at scoring for OKC. Blair will, in nothing else, deliver that bruising blue-collar effort chasing boards that Diaw, Bonner and even Splitter can’t provide.

Westbrook

Russell Westbrook did major damage to the Spurs in more ways other than just scoring in Game 4. Courtesy: Jim Young/Reuters

5.  This one is really scary: Didn’t think Russell Westbrook had matured to the point where he did in Game 4. His jumpers not falling, Westbrook didn’t keep jacking up bricks as he did in the 4th quarter of Game 1.  This time, he did a mini-Manu, altering the game with his defense and by not relenting in getting the ball to the sizzling Durant down the stretch.  Westbrook not being the “Hero Mode” Westbrook does not work in the SA’s favor.

Chesapeake Arena

Chesapeake Arena remains unsullied by visitors during the playoffs. The Spurs need the AT&T Center to match that home perfection. Courtesy: Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman

6.  Finally: This is the series we all expected. And deep down, really wanted.  It’s just like Pop said in Game 1, “It’s not supposed to be easy!”  NBA championships are not won with 16-0 perfect playoff runs.  Playoff rounds are not usually won with clean sweeps.  Like we all already knew, the Spurs and Thunder are two titanic teams colliding for chance to raise a title banner.  This is the kind of series where the ebbs and flows occur game to game, quarter by quarter. Sometimes even with each and every possession.

Durant over Leonard

Man-to-man, or double-teaming did little to slow the Durantula in Game 4 vs. the Spurs. Courtesy: Nate Billings/The Oklahoman

Super stars rise. Role players explode.  And an epic playoff series like this one the Spurs and Thunder are concocting are the kind fans remember forever.

So to the Spurs of 2012, and to Spurs Nation: Welcome to Game 5.  Always “pivotal” Game 5.

The website statsontapp.com uncovered these Game 5 nuggets from the last 25 NBA playoff series that were tied at 2-2:

* The home team won Game 5 in 20 of those 25 contests.

* The series ended with the Game 5 winner also winning Game 6 in 14 series.

* The series went to a Game 7 a total of 11 times. The home team won Game 7 in nine of those 11 games.

* The team that won Game 5 also won Game 7 seven times.

Overall, Game 5′s victor with a series tied 2-2 goes on to win the best-of-seven around 83% of the time. I expect that to hold true in this series.

Cue Brent Musberger: because whether Spurs Nation is at the AT&T Center, in a sports bar or setting up the game-watching shop at home, “Sit back and watch the drama unfold.”

I can’t wait.

About Maury Vasquez

Maury Vasquez is part of San Antonio's sports history and tradition. Vasquez worked with the KENS-5 Sports team under the legendary Dan Cook in the 90's before joining the top rated news team at KSAT-12. His career in broadcasting expands over 20 years in San Antonio and South Texas. Today, Maury works full time as the Public Information Officer for Somerset ISD giving a voice to the Bulldog Nation of students and staff. And his love for sports continues, by co-hosting "Longhorns Unplugged" on Ticket 760 AM along with co-hosting the "SASports.com HS Football Scoreboard Show". You can also find Vasquez Saturday mornings at the Mays Family "Field of Dreams" next to Wolff Stadium, where he serves as the announcer for the Miracle League baseball spring and fall seasons. Maury Vasquez is a native of Mercedes, TX from the Rio Grande Valley who has called SA home since 1992. He is also the proud father of two children, Valerie and Mauro IV. Maury writes for AlamoCityTimes.com about whatever moves him in the world of sports to the game of life, and just about anything in between.

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