The San Antonio Spurs still sit at ten down, six to go, just like they were three games ago. Only now the Spurs don't give a crap about the six the go and just care about getting one game. After winning twenty straight, they've now lost three in a row for the first time this season, obviously at the worst possible time.
Thanks to James Harden, last night's game was a bit of a stomach punch. Probably not along the Derek Fisher .4 lines or the Dirk "and 1" layup from 2006, but it's probably right after that in terms of recent Spurs gut shots. Since last night's game was a loss let's start with the bad news first.
What Went Wrong
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Spurs had 21 turnovers that resulted in 28 Oklahoma City Thunder points. That more or less decided the game. The Spurs were particularly reckless in the first half racking up 14 turnovers that allowed the Thunder to come back from a seven point early deficit which eventually led to the Spurs going down as much as 14.
Also for the third game in a row, the Spurs delivered a stink bomb of a second quarter. This is due in large part to a sudden lack of effectiveness from a second unit that was close to unstoppable a couple of weeks ago. Along with Ginobili (who started last night), Stephen Jackson and Gary Neal had only been the two consistently good bench guys and Neal went 0-6 last night and threw up a couple of terrible shots in the second that led to Thunder buckets.
During 2007 NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers double and triple teamed Tim Duncan, forcing someone else to make shots to beat them. What helped the Spurs win the NBA title in four games was that Duncan did everything but score (though he still scored quite a bit) to help his team win that series. For the second year in a row, Tony Parker has disappeared when his team has needed him most. Until the fourth quarter last night, Parker hadn't really been seen from since the end of Game Two. Yes, Oklahoma City has made some good adjustments on him. Thabo Sefalosha is a good (but not great) defender who Parker let bother him. The Thunder's bigs have also shown harder on screens, something they didn't do in Games One and Two. Somehow that has zapped Parker of all aggressiveness. What other "franchise player" lets himself get taken out of a series by above average defensive players like Mike Conley, Jr. and Thabo Sefalosha? Finally during the fourth quarter he started moving more without the ball, getting layups and getting to the free throw line. You can blame the coaching staff if you want for not making adjustments, but it's on Parker to know where he can exploit a defense and where he can't. The Spurs need an aggressive Tony Parker if they're going to win Game Six and Game Seven (apparently ESPN's JA Adande and I are on the same wave length here).
What Went Right
For starters, Manu Ginobili went right. 35 points, seven rebounds and six assists. He sparked the third quarter comeback and attacked Russell Westbrook or Thabo every chance he got. Don't blame the coaching staff or Manu for that last shot, the Thunder just played it beautifully and Manu still got a decent look at it.
When he wasn't in foul trouble, Tim Duncan looked great. 18 points and 12 rebounds is about what we should expect from Timmy, especially when he's being defended most of the time by Kendrick Perkins, who is one of the best post defenders in the league. He showed especially in the fourth quarter that he really had no interest in going quietly in to the night, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter, including six points straight in one minute. As both Paul and Jeff Garcia noted last night, Duncan showed no signs after the game of thinking the series is over. I'd be surprised if we didn't see another 18 and 12 performance, or better, out of Duncan in Game Six.
Finally, it's hard to picture what will happen in Game Six. It's possible the Thunder smell blood on their home court and they come out and crush the Spurs from the get go. It's also hard to imagine a team that just won 20 straight to lose four in a row to a team they have owned in recent years. Two pieces of history for you. In 2004, .4 happened and the Spurs went to LA the next game and lost by double digits, ending their season. In 2006, down 3-2, the Spurs went in to Dallas, beat the Mavericks and were a stupid Ginobili foul away from winning Game Seven. Must wins on the road aren't new to the Spurs and this is a winnable game because of how close this series has been.
We all had a good idea we were going to face the Thunder in the WCF. And anyone who thought that should have known it wasn't going to be an easy series no matter how long the winning streak we had. The week before the series started I was trying to be honest with myself and decide who I thought would win and I couldn't decide. It seemed to me like it could go either way. I did not expect to see OKC employ so many of the Spurs tactics, but who better to emulate? Either way, these are both good teams, and they both deserve respect.
Well OKC earned the win. Manu got us back in it by chucking alot of threes - that strategy didn't really leave me with a feeling of "we figured something out".
Then Westbrook nearly blew it on his own being involved in three straight turnovers. But Harden saved the day.
Let's see if the Spurs can limit the turnovers in game 6 - that is the key. And less flopping.
MISSING - Spurs team that one 20 games in a row. REWARD - from the Spurs fans.
The Spurs have been replaced by a bunch of aliens that don't know what a basketball is! Maybe the Spurs are home packing their luggage for their summer vacations. Hopefully with this reward we can find them and get them back before game 6!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!