Aside from someone advising Danny Green that a sense of urgency is needed, because each passing quarter is costing him another million in a future contract, ditto for role players Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner and Gary Neal, the Spurs actually have a formula for stealing Game 6 in Oklahoma City. To be sure, the Spurs must play with high energy for 48 minutes and avoid turning the ball over. Those are the obvious things. But the key to victory is simplicity. Gregg Popovich must play the lineup that got him this far. This is no time for gimmicks, no time for panic, yes, even facing elimination.
If I were Gregg Popovich, I would call a team meeting upon arrival in Oklahoma City and inform the players that the original rotation returns. Green is the starter and even Matt Bonner will get his minutes. The reason I would do this is multifaceted. For one, on the heels of a three game losing streak and a miserable series performance by a few, there is always the chance that fortunes will turn for the Spurs’ role players. Simply stated, the Spurs are getting and missing enough open shots to win ballgames.
Maybe those threes that are back rimming will finally go down. And if Green or Bonner hit just one three pointer apiece? If Neal comes in and nails a couple of treys? Suddenly some space opens up for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and the Spurs' inferior athleticism becomes hedged ever so slightly. But moreso, this is a game of streaks and confidence. If Jackson and Neal pop a couple, it can become contagious. The Spurs don't need an overhaul to steal Game 6, they need a couple of tweaks.
The fact is, had Harden missed and the Spurs ended up winning Game 5, the national pundits and fans would all be talking about how the Spurs' role players would likely step up and launch the Thunders' coffin nails from long range tomorrow night.
The Spurs will need to give heavy minutes to their Big Three of Parker, Ginobili and Tim Duncan. If this team is destined for a backdoor sweep, you want it to happen with the keys to the machine in your star players’ hands. But that would be the case even if the Spurs were up 3-1. The problem is not late in games. Indeed, its not the bright light game moments where the Spurs are coming apart, its when the fans are up fetching some popcorn and checking their text messages. Like clockwork, the Spurs go up late in the first quarter, in come a couple of reserves, and there goes the lead. An epic mini-collapse ensues and Spurs fans get thrilled that the team is only down a dozen at the half instead of 25.
But what if just two shots fell for just one role player at the six minute mark of the second quarter? What if the Spurs committed only two turnovers in the second quarter instead of six? Until somebody steps up and makes a couple of shots, the lane will continue to be stacked against Parker, Ginobili and Duncan. Until a shot falls from afar, guys will continue to press and throw risky passes.
I bet if you gathered the Thunder and Spurs for a game of horse this afternoon at Chesapeake Arena, the champion would be Matt Bonner and runner up Gary Neal. Kevin Durant would probable lock horns with Manu Ginobili in a battle for third place.
The Spurs have the system, personnel and moxie to win against any team in any arena under any circumstance. What they lack is a good team psychologist, evidently. Popovich returning to the original rotation, having each player place a hand in a circle and on three shout “Spurs” is probably all this team needs heading into Game 6. Its not excuses and surrender the Spurs need, but a heaping shot of confidence and a good pep talk. If the Spurs lose Game 6 playing fast, carefully and freely, so be it. Then we can all say the better team won. But if the Spurs lose with Ginobili and Jackson playing 42 minutes apiece and Green and Splitter get DNP’s, we’ll all be scratching our heads all summer long.
I would also go back to the original lineup because a 20 game win streak is no fluke. Less than one week ago this Spurs team was being compared to the ’72 Lakers and being called potentially the greatest Spurs team ever. Did they truly get that bad in such a short time against a team, albeit a great team, whom they’d enjoyed considerable success this and prior seasons?
The Spurs are suffering from confidence and execution issues. Their lack of confidence is causing them to force their offense and turn the ball over to the most athletic team in transition in the NBA, not to mention the greatest free throw shooting team. The Spurs need to go into Game 6 with a calm, nothing-to-lose attitude, yet knowing the critical importance of protecting the ball on offense.
If you look at the dynamics of this series, Game 1 was a dogfight in which both teams were feeling one another out and the Spurs came out on top. For all practical purposes the Spurs won Game 2 handily, although the Thunder snuck back. But if I were a Thunder fan, I would’ve been merely halfheartedly encouraged by Game 2. The fact is the Spurs opened a commanding 22 point lead in that game due to offensive perfection. Game 3 obviously went to the Thunder. We all knew that they’d come back revving in front of their home crowd. Game 4 was a fluke game in which Durant became unstoppable and played a fourth quarter for the ages while Serge Ibaka shot 11/11 and benefited from a couple of suspect calls. Still, the Spurs got within a couple with minutes remaining in the game.
Enter Game 5. Gregg Popovich made a grave mistake by butchering his lineup. In a way he cannot be blamed because, historically speaking, Game 5 is a borderline must win game. I’ll be honest and admit that I was excited to see Manu starting, but that plan backfired because role players like Neal shot 0/6. Worse, the Spurs coughed up the ball 21 times again. I don’t care how athletic a team is, the Spurs are veteran and smart enough, whether at home or on the road, to be able to keep turnovers below 10. Had the Spurs kept the turnovers to 15 they would’ve won Game 5 at the free throw line fairly comfortably.
The San Antonio Spurs are an epic, dynastic franchise during The Tim Duncan Era. The Spurs own an unimaginable record of 15 straight 50+ win seasons, and they recently fired off 20 straight wins against predominately excellent competition. True, the Thunder deserve immense credit for disrupting the Spurs’ game plan, offensive flow, exploiting their athletic advantage and for simply making championship caliber clutch shots, such as James Harden’s devastating step back three to win Game 5.
But by no means should the Spurs be written off in Game 6. This is a team with tremendous pride and unity and I am certain that Popovich and his staff will be reminding his players what got them this far and how they have already won in Oklahoma City this season. Simply cutting their turnovers in half will keep the Spurs within striking distance late in the fourth. But if Green, Neal or Bonner can merely convert a couple of three pointers, not an 18 point onslaught, mind you, but if each can hit just one three pointer, this series changes. The fact is the Big Three will show up Wednesday as will Stephen Jackson.
The Spurs will not lay down and get run out of the gym. The Thunder will have to earn this victory against a team which has been on this stage before and knows that this might be its last opportunity in many seasons to come that they advance this far in the playoffs. I am expecting the Spurs to let it fly and bring a fighting spirit tomorrow night.
Another thing merits mentioning. This is not the Spurs vs. the Lakers in the 2001 playoffs, where the Spurs were the overwhelming favorite to win that series, only to get destroyed by an average margin of 22 points in a humiliating, franchise course altering sweep. No, the Spurs have had a legitimate shot to win every game except Game 3. Game 6 is by no means a lock for the Thunder as Game 4 was for the Lakers when Avery Johnson was our point guard.
And fans need to stop overanalyzing body language. I’ve heard local talk radio abuzz with callers claiming Tim Duncan looked defeated late in the fourth quarter. He was dog tired! He was playing hard at 36 years old against the world's most elite competition! He was doing anything but quitting! Was he supposed to smile and smirk and roll his eyes?
Its deflating to lose a game like Game 5, but believe me, Duncan and his teammates will show up for Game 6. I think Spurs fans would be wise to trust in the stellar Spurs brand over the next day or so and tune out the national and even local media. They are trying to boost ratings while the Spurs are preparing to play a game of basketball, not go to war.
Just enjoy Game 6 and the tremendous effort Hall of Famer Duncan and his brothers will put forth in Oklahoma City tomorrow night!
I am looking for the Spurs to recollect themselves and play the game of their lives. This is a fly-under-the-radar team. I’m sure all the national love they were receiving last week irked them, because it even irked me as a fan! Knowing that they have been written off and given virtually zero chance of victory in Game 6, I expect this savvy veteran squad to light one more fire and stun the basketball world. I think they’ll dig down and make a few critical late stops and, finally, FINALLY, someone other than Manu Ginobili will hit a couple of late killer threes.
This team looked dead from the get-go when they lost their first five or six road games to start the season. Nobody in their right mind thought the Spurs would sniff the Western Conference Finals, much less be labeled a dynasty again. But this team has defied odds and age all season long. They’ve dazzled their fans and have not begged for the limelight. We need to enjoy this moment and not bash and quit on this team when they need us most. If Spurs fans expect the Spurs to win tomorrow night, then we all need to adapt a winning attitude and believe that the very possible might happen tomorrow night.
I predict Spurs 102 Thunder 99.