Thunder (10-7, 3-4 road) vs. Spurs (10-6, 7-3 home)
SAN ANTONIO — Back to San Antonio, where there are two prevailing storylines. 1) The Thunder won a Game 5 there in 2012, taking control of the series and presenting an opportunity to close out at home; and 2) the Spurs beat the Thunder by 52 points there in Games 1 and 2 of this series.
Now, there’s the element of Serge Ibaka, and his absence was obviously a major influence in how the first two games played out. So it’s kind of hard to get a feel for how this is going to play out tonight. Which is fun! The Spurs’ role players historically perform much better at home than they do on the road, and while the Thunder have won often this postseason on the road, they’ve haven’t yet in San Antonio.
Momentum in the playoffs is a weird thing, because the longer a series goes, the less it matters. The Thunder have all of it tonight, but the Spurs just need one win to be within a game of the Finals. A hot night from Danny Green and all those transgressions and issues are wiped away.
Here’s my feeling: If the Thunder win tonight, the series is all but over. The Spurs will be facing the actual repeat scenario of 2012, and heading to OKC where they’ve lost nine straight. But if the Spurs win, it’s probably going seven. I think the Thunder can all but win the series in Game 5. The Spurs are just playing to give themselves a good chance in Game 7.
Five Big Things
1. Role guys. I just mentioned it, but the Spurs are only winning if they get support from their others. Green is the most likely candidate, but Marco Belinelli — who has been awful this postseason — or Boris Diaw or someone could hurt OKC. Duncan and Parker and Ginobili are the clear and present dangers, but those other guys are who really do the damage.
2. Turnovers. The Thunder can’t expect to produce the same kind of live-ball steals they did in Game 4, but that kind of havoc can really disrupt the Spurs. Jumping those passing lanes, pressuring the ball and making it difficult to get to any spot comfortably is what the Thunder need to focus on.
3. Westbrook. I’m worried. Westbrook is coming off one of his best games ever, and knowing him well, he has a tendency to try to hard to do it all over again. He’s capable of putting a long line of great games together, but he can also flame out gloriously the night after a good one. He has to start confident, but also stay patient and under control. Don’t do too much. Just let it all come naturally.
4. Beware of adjustments. The Spurs might be changing their starting five tonight as Pop played coy at shootaround. There’s talk of Kawhi Leonard playing power forward in super small lineups to try and pull Ibaka out of the paint. Or maybe starting Diaw to do the same. One to watch for: Leonard on Westbrook, and a small on Durant. The Spurs are going to try everything, especially if it’s going bad for them. Which honestly, reminds me a lot of 2012 where Popovich couldn’t do anything that the Thunder didn’t have an answer for.
5. Play hard. The Thunder have played harder, faster and with more intensity than the Spurs these last two. The old guys haven’t been able to catch up. The Thunder need to hit them hard early, and hope they crumble.
Tip at 8:00 CT. Go Do It Again.