On the surface, this is a game San Antonio should win. Back-to-back losses should be ample fuel for the Spurs, but another shortcoming could be fatal. Though, the last time the Spurs dropped consecutive games, they went on a 20-game tear. However, the Thunder are no pushover. This is a must win for San Antonio, and here are three things to watch for inside the AT&T Center.
Protect this house. San Antonio is counting their blessings they earned home court advantage for this series. Winning in Oklahoma City seems next to impossible at this point. The Spurs must take care of business at home, because the Thunder have come very close to taking one in the Lone Star State.
Game 1 the Thunder had it in the palm of their hands, but the Spurs blew by OKC in the fourth, scoring 39 points. The Spurs have yet to close a game like they did since then. Game 2 they couldn’t slam the door on the Thunder, and Oklahoma City nearly came back to tie it at 1-1. Game 3 was a complete debacle, and Game 4 the Spurs came close, but this is the NBA Playoffs. You have to finish ball games.
San Antonio has to be on attack mode from the beginning, and sustain a level of intensity throughout the entire 48 minutes. No breaks, no plays off. San Antonio has to defend their home court, or they will be on a suicide mission to take Game 6 in Oklahoma City and then win Game 7.
Attack and finish at the rim. If it can work for the Thunder, it can work for San Antonio. Manu Ginobili has looked at times restrained during the postseason, and I would love for Manu to go full throttle toward the basket. In Game 4, Tony Parker would just walk down court and effortlessly get a quick lay-up. The Spurs have to fight fire with fire, and this is the way they can do it.
While the Thunder are throwing up alley oops and slamming it home every other play, San Antonio has to become the aggressor by pushing the ball inside. If they do, it will make for wide-open Kawhi Leonard or whoever may be spotting up on the perimeter. Also, sticking DeJuan Blair in the game should equal more second chance opportunities. The Spurs have to play to their advantages, and not let another game get away from them.
Limit the supporting cast. By some miracle, or a hex on the basketball, Serge Ibaka went 11-for-11 Saturday night. At times the Spurs would leave him wide open, because someone didn’t rotate or got lazy on defenese. Kevin Durant is going to his points. It is frustrating, but no one is going to stop Durant from scoring. All you can hope to do is bother him.
However, the Spurs have to kick it up a notch and prevent a guy like Serge Ibaka or Thabo Sefolosha from going off again. The Thunder got way too many points from their role players, which is a big reason they got up early and were able to knock off San Antonio. Basically, there’s no sense in trying to put two men on a Durant or Westbrook or Harden. Stick to your guy, and try to either take a charge or contest the shot.
Final verdict. Spurs by five. San Antonio is going to have to grind this one out, but they are fully capable of doing it. Maybe the lack of a challenge before this series got this team a bit rusty and a little overconfident. Either way, San Antonio has to get back to what won them 50 games this season, and 10 thus far in the postseason. Let’s hope they can make it 11.