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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 8:24 PM

In what was arguably the single biggest surprise of the playoffs in terms of media expectations, the Oklahoma City beat the San Antonio Spurs Monday Night 109-103 to take a three-games-to-two series lead in the Western Conference finals.

Sure, Philadelphia over Chicago was a shocker when a #8 seed beat a #1 seed. But that was because Derrick Rose went out with an injury late in the first game. By the time the Sixers won the series, it wasn’t much of a surprise. They were either the better of the two teams with their new lineups, or it was a near toss-up.

Given:

*San Antonio had been on a 20-0 streak just a few days earlier…

*San Antonio had been fantastic at home all season…

*San Antonio had been REALLY fantastic this year when all of their stars were healthy…

*San Antonio was still the betting favorite to win the whole league not just the West at tipoff of Game Five

The fact that Oklahoma City could take a big second quarter lead…blow it…take another big lead in the second half…blow THAT…then hang on at the end with the younger more inexperienced team….THAT was something many didn’t see coming.

Now, the storyline is that Oklahoma City has gotten over the hump and arrived. All eventual champions have to deal with adversity against a great team in their conference before finally gaining the confidence to be champions. Since the final buzzer, many in the media world have given the West to OKC…and have said that whoever wins the East will have enormous trouble figuring out how to stop the Thunder. Charles Barkley said basically just that seconds after the game ended on TNT!

Look, that may be true…but you have to wait until the Thunder are holding the Larry O’Brien trophy over their heads before you can say stuff like that. They haven’t even climbed the Western mountain yet. They scored a huge win that has put them in position to reach the top if they can keep their composure now that they’re series favorites.

BIG IF!

San Antonio is a team of warriors. And it’s a team that can come back from any deficit because they make a lot of three-pointers. If OKC starts celebrating too early, they can very easily lose Game Six at home and find themselves in a 3-3 series tie. Let’s not forget these other playoff games in OKC this season:

Oklahoma City (-7.5) beat Dallas 99-98

Oklahoma City (-6.5) beat Dallas 102-99

Oklahoma City (-7.5) beat the LA Lakers 77-75

Yes, the Thunder survived all of those games. But, they only did so by margins of 1-3-2, and San Antonio is much better than Dallas and the Lakers! If the Thunder get overconfident…which they clearly were in those first two home games against a Dallas team that slumped down the stretch of the regular season…and in Game Two of  their series with the Lakers after winning Game One 119-90…then the Spurs will give them a whooping that could reverberate for YEARS. This series is NOT over yet. Oklahoma City has broken serve, and now must seal the deal at home with inexperienced young stars against the many veterans of San Antonio.

 

SAN ANTONIO vs. OKLAHOMA CITY

Game Six Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 5, total of 202

Oklahoma City leads 3-2

The market now sees OKC as the superior team given that number. Home court is generally worth three points…but often 4 of 4.5 in the playoffs. The Thunder are above that threshold, and earned that right with three impressive results once they changed how they were defending Tony Parker. They’ve won at home by margins of 20 and 6, then on the road by 5 since that tweak. Gregg Popovich has had no answer for it…and he’d better find one fast or this series is going to be over. Note that OKC was favored by 4 and 3 in their prior two home games.

The total moved back to 202 after dropping to 201 in Game Five. History says scoring is supposed to go down through the course of a playoff series. This may not be a series where that’s destined to happen given the potent weaponry on both teams…and the desire to avoid fouls that both defenses are showing us to this point. There’s a lot of tempo on this series creating extra possessions, and nobody wants to foul out. Actual scoreboard totals so far have landed on 199, 231, 184, 212, and 211. That’s an average of 207.4, with three of the five games topping 210.

JIM HURLEY has been working with his sources in OKC to gauge the mindset of the young Thunder. And, he’s been in meetings with his historians to determine what happens when young teams are at home with a series lead of 3-2 against veterans. That combination HAS happened before, and the results will weigh heavily on NETWORK’s final decision here.

 

GAME FIVE SUMMARY

OKLAHOMA CITY 108, SAN ANTONIO 103

Field Goal Pct: Oklahoma City 50%, San Antonio 46%

Three-Pointers: Oklahoma City 8/21, San Antonio 9/24

Free Throws: Oklahoma City 20/23, San Antonio 26/31

Rebounds: Oklahoma City 34, San Antonio 42

Turnovers: Oklahoma City 16, San Antonio 21

Vegas Line: San Antonio by 5, total of 201

Turnovers are just killing San Antonio. They know they have to push tempo to create open looks on treys…but pushing tempo just gets them playing helter skelter. Too many passes are going to the wrong places. Too many passes are getting deflected by long-armed defenders. And, forays to the basket are seeing the ball stripped by defenders who are timing things just right. With all the talk about Oklahoma City “maturing” during this series…as the young stars are supposedly “leaning how to win,” what’s getting lost in the shuffle is how great the Thunder are playing defensively. That’s not showing up in field goal percentage because they’re backing off sometimes to avoid fouls. It’s showing up with forced turnovers. This is the SECOND game in the series where OKC forced more than 20 turnovers from the Spurs.

Obviously the Spurs have to fix their turnover issues if they’re going to win as a dog on Wednesday Night. Or, at least trim a few off that high total to give themselves a chance to win a nailbiter.

Will JIM HURLEY be making an upset call Wednesday? Or, is OKC destined to coast into the finals on their way to a dramatic league championship? You’ll have to sign up for service to find out. Wednesday’s selection can be purchased here at the website a few hours before tipoff. Note that there are no day baseball games Wednesday…meaning you have plenty of time to take care of business in both sports.

Baseball games we’re paying special attention to today:

Tampa Bay at NY Yankees on ESPN (Cobb vs. Nova)

Baltimore at Boston (Chen vs. Beckett)

Atlanta at Miami (Delgado vs. Johnson)

If you have any questions about NETWORK’s basketball or baseball service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about combination packages that include race day at Saturday’s Belmont. We’re now just a few days away from I’ll Have Another’s try for a Triple Crown.

Thursday’s NOTEBOOK will bring Game Six of the Miami-Boston series. Thanks to all of you who have been visiting day-by-day through the playoffs. We hope our market watch and stat breakdowns have been of assistance to you do-it-yourselfers. In a few days we’ll be able to get back to some in-depth reports on Major League Baseball. June has always been one of the great sports months. Be sure you’re MAKING THE MOST OF IT with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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