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3 Keys for San Antonio Spurs to Reach 2014 NBA Finals

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May 29, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs mascot performs against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half in game five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs have the opportunity to close out the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road in Game 6 of an entertaining, yet odd, series.

The Spurs will try to buck the trend of home teams dominating this series by buckling down for what hopes to be a victory for the old guys in black and white.  In order for San Antonio to earn a victory at the Chesapeake Arena, the Spurs will have to focus on three factors.

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1. Do your thing, Boris Diaw

May 27, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw (33) handles the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward

Kevin Durant

(35) during the fourth quarter in game four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

I admit, I have one of the ultimate man crushes on Boris Diaw.

He is simply such a huge part of the Spurs success when the match ups dictate it.  He has the basketball IQ and passing ability of a point guard, he can spread the floor with his three-point shooting, and he has the footwork and post-up ability of a power forward.

In Game 5, Diaw was given the challenge of spacing out the floor in an effort to pull Serge Ibaka away from the rim, and that’s exactly what he did.  Diaw only shot two threes, but he made both of them and finished the night with an efficient 13 points, six rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal.  While Boris doesn’t need to be a three-point gunner in Game 6, he does have to keep the Thunder defense honest by being a threat from behind the arc and hitting a few.

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Although Matt Bonner was unimpressive and ineffective in his first start of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out there again. Although Boris was great in Game 5, Pop may prefer to keep him in with their second unit and preserve some of his minutes with the starters for later in game.  Whatever the case may be, Boris needs to play up to the moment tomorrow and help solidify the Spurs spot in the 2014 NBA Finals.

2. Continue to matchup Leonard on Westbrook and Green on Durant

Jun 06, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard

Russell Westbrook

(0) drives past San Antonio Spurs small forward

Kawhi Leonard

(2) during the second half in game six of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs did an excellent job of keeping Westbrook and Durant out of the paint and off the free-throw line last night, forcing them into strictly jump shooters.  In an excellent article by Paul Garcia at Project Spurs, Garcia goes into detail on how the Spurs succeeded at keeping both players at bay, mainly due to the stellar defense of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

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  • However, the difference in Game 5 was who Leonard and Green were defending.  As  Garica mentions, because the Thunder use a lot of 1-3 pick and rolls–the small forward picking for the point guard–Pop opted to use Kawhi on Westbrook and Danny on KD.

    Kawhi seemingly bothered Westbrook with his length and quickness, which helped keep Westbrook out of the paint as evidenced by his two, yes, two shots at the rim.  As for KD, Durant only attempted four free throws, a very low number compared to his season and playoff averages of 9.9 and 8.7 FTA, respectively.

    If the Spurs hope to continue their defensive success against the Thunder superstars in Oklahoma City, then Pop should continue to rely on his two young and athletic players to make life difficult for the Ninja Turtle and Slender Man.

    3. Limit transition opportunities

    May 29, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half in game five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Due to the Spurs controlling the pace of the game, they finished Game 5 with 14 fast-break points, as opposed to the Thunder’s four.  This was a complete reversal of what we saw in Game 4, where the Thunder literally ran the Spurs out of the building by scoring 21 fast-break points while the Spurs had zero.

    As much as I would like to say that the Spurs will once again be able to limit the Thunder’s transition opportunities, I honestly just don’t know.  The Thunder feed off their fans’ energy and that often leads to their explosive transition buckets.

    If the Spurs hope to win in the hostile confines of the Chesapeake Arena then they are going to have to make a concerted effort to get back on defense after missed shots and contest the Thunder in transition.  If not, then the Spurs will most likely be staring in the face of another Game 7.

    Spurs shot 71% in the paint in Game 5, their best in a game this postseason, after shooting a postseason-low 45% in Game 4

    — ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 30, 2014

    Much of the Spurs success in limiting transition opportunities for the Thunder in Game 5 was due to them simply knocking down shots.

    The Spurs didn’t shoot above 40 percent in either games in Oklahoma City, but hopefully their offensive success in Game 5 will translate over into Game 6.  If this is the case, then SA will be able to limit the Thunder’s damage in transition.  San Antonio must play their brand of basketball and be assertive in their play instead of letting OKC do their thing and use the passion of their fans to fuel their momentum.

    A spot in the 2014 NBA Finals is on the line for the Spurs, so they must not take any chances and make the most of this opportunity to close out the Thunder and advance to where they’ve wanted to be all season long.

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