Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 7:33 PM
Ponder this question for a second. Who’s the superior team in the San Antonio/Oklahoma City series in the NBA’s Western Conference finals. Can you definitely make a statement that one is definitely superior to the other at the moment?
Yes, San Antonio had the better record during the regular season. But, that’s old news now. And, playoff basketball is different than regular season basketball anyway. All sports have seen regular season titans who were better suited to playing well over a long grind than they were for going to battle---studs vs. studs---with everything at stake.
Yes, San Antonio was red hot entering this series, having won 18 games in a row. Regression to the mean hits everybody. And, you don’t get to carry prior wins into a new series. It doesn’t matter that San Antonio is 20-2 the past several weeks. They’re 2-2 in this series.
Yes, San Antonio looked like World Champions in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals…particularly during large stretches of Game Two when they were running a basketball clinic. If you’ll recall. Tony Parker was leading that clinic because Russell Westbrook couldn’t guard him. Oklahoma City made a defensive change that significantly slowed down Parker and the Spurs. If Westbrook isn’t guarding Parker, is San Antonio still the better of the two teams?
THAT’S what you have to think about entering tonight’s critical Game Five of the Thunder-Spurs series. Given the current lineups, the current rotations, and the current strategic approaches who’s the better team? Oklahoma City made a very strong case for themselves with a pair if impressive home wins Thursday and Saturday Nights.
*They made defensive adjustments that disrupted the flow of the Spurs offense, particularly in terms of slashers getting into the paint and scoring easy buckets.
*They made offensive adjustments that allowed role players to score more easy baskets. San Antonio had effectively neutralized OKC’s big three of Durant/Westbrook/Harden in the first two games. They didn’t shut them down, but they “contained” them in basketball terms. Saturday Night, others like Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins “exploded” simply by making a lot of close-in shots while the Spurs were focused on the Big Three. Now what is San Antonio going to do.
Who’s the better team now? Complicating matters, how about who’s going to be the better team after San Antonio makes their own new adjustments? This series is a living, breathing chess game, and it’s somebody else’s turn to make a move. Handicapping Game Five of Thunder/Spurs means trying to predict those moves and their consequences yourself…then comparing your predictions to the market assessment.
SAN ANTONIO vs. OKLAHOMA CITY
Game Five Vegas Line: San Antonio by 5, total of 202
Series tied 2-2
The market is clearly giving San Antonio credit for the ability to come up with relevant adjustments and execute them. Home court is usually worth about three points in the NBA. Maybe it’s worth more here because Oklahoma City is so loud and San Antonio so loyal. Still, we’re talking about Oklahoma City winning by 20 and 6 points in their last two games, but the market still assessing the Spurs as the superior team. Earlier lines in the Alamo City were 5.5 in the opener and 4 in Game Two. The Game Five spread kind of splits the difference there, but doesn’t acknowledge that OKC has a new guy guarding Parker.
Over/Unders have been interesting in recent postseason games because the teams aren’t cooperating with history! You’re supposed to bet Unders in the playoffs (because that’s what works!). And, matchups are supposed to get lower scoring as they progress because defense intensifies. Yet, Game Four in this series popped a 212, and the four game average is 206.5. The market really doesn’t know what to make of the inconsistent defense we’re seeing in both the West and East so far in the conference championship round.
JIM HURLEY’s sources with the Spurs are letting him know what adjustments may or may not be made for Monday’s Game Five. And, his sources with the Thunder are studying the mindset of the young players who may be getting a bit too full of themselves. The last thing OKC can do is relax thinking they’ve got the matchups figured out and the rest of the series is going to be theirs. The complex intangibles create the possibility for a big “information” play in either direction. If the Spurs make the right tweaks and bring peak intensity (you can count on the latter), then they could win a blowout vs. an OKC team that’s due to fall back to earth shooting wise. But, if Tony Parker represents the head that’s already been cut off the snake, then OKC can win this game outright and finish off the series Wednesday at home.
BIG NIGHT! So be sure you get the BIG WINNER from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!
GAME FOUR SUMMARY
OKLAHOMA CITY 109, SAN ANTONIO 103
Field Goal Pct: San Antonio 50%, Oklahoma City 56%
Three-Pointers: San Antonio 11/23, Oklahoma City 5/13
Free Throws: San Antonio 10/16, Oklahoma City 16/21
Rebounds: San Antonio 31, Oklahoma City 41
Turnovers: San Antonio 10, Oklahoma City 12
Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 3, total of 202
Oklahoma City shot lights out, draining 60% of their two-point baskets and making enough from long range to keep the Spurs from winning from behind the arc. It’s telling that OKC can lose that category by 15 points yet still seem to be in control at home. They lost BOTH of their home games by 15 on treys yet did so much inside the arc that nobody even thought about it.
The rebounding category really jumps out at us. We usually talk about how “defense and rebounding wins championships” here in the NOTEBOOK. We’re not talking about super defenses in this series. Rebounding becomes a tie-breaker. The bigs on OKC were great at making close-in shots and winning the battle of the boards. Be sure you’re watching what happens within five feet of the basket (or maybe 10) from this point forward. All the back-and-forth chess moves ultimately influence that part of the floor.
San Antonio did fix their turnover problem, winning the stat for the first time in the series. It’s telling that they lost the game anyway! But, if you assume that OKC will cool off shooting wise, the fact that SA is doing a better job of treasuring their possessions is going to matter.
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