“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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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