Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 12:31 AM
So, what did Thursday Night mean? Can Oklahoma City come storming back from an 0-2 start in their Western Conference Championship series with San Antonio to advance to the League Finals? Or, was their 102-82 victory just the same old blip on the radar we’ve seen time and time again in the past when a series underdog played great in their home opener?
Some recent examples of that phenomenon:
*Denver beat the LA Lakers 99-84 after losing the first two games of that first round Western Conference series. They would lose the very next game at home 92-88 before rallying later in the series to make it a contest. But, that Game Three Denver victory, as impressive as it was, didn’t foreshadow series survival. It was a blip on the radar.
*The LA Lakers beat Oklahoma City 99-96 in their home opener after falling behind 2-0 in their second round series. That wasn’t exactly a blowout though, which isn’t an ideal match for what we’re dealing with in OKC-SA. Kobe and company would lose the next two games and get eliminated four games to one.
That’s it in terms of matches this year in the first two rounds. Series favorites had been doing a very good job of taking care of business on the road as a general rule (part of that long stretch where favorites were covering every spread!. There was one other matchup where a series underdog did win Game Three at home in front of a boisterous crowd. That was Indiana beating Miami after splitting road games to take a surprising 2-1 series lead at the time. Again though, that Game Three home victory didn’t foreshadow a series win. The Pacers wouldn’t win another game.
If we look at it this way…after a series underdog won Game Three at home:
There’s not much hope there for OKC. Those teams went 2-7 straight up after Game Three wins. And, none were playing the San Antonio Spurs, who had won 20 games in a row prior to Thursday’s loss!
That being said…we actually think OKC’s chances to come all the way back and win the series are better than those numbers would suggest. Here are a few of the reasons:
*The Thunder made some very smart defensive adjustments in Game Three that worked out well. Going forward, those adjustments should help them avoid the troubles they were having in the first two games.
*The Thunder did a much better job of moving the ball around and getting good shots in Game Three. Their young stars may have finally gotten over their stubbornness about trying to force things that aren’t there. Russell Westbrook was a handful for the Lakers. He might be about to become a bigger handful the rest of this series than he was the first two games…when he kept shooting his own team in the foot with ill-advised shots.
*The market has much more respect for the Thunder than they did for those other teams. That means you should too. Oklahoma City is favored by about 3.5 as we write this. Denver was only -2 in Game Four vs. the Lakers…the Lakers were +1.5 at home against KC…and Indiana was +1.5 vs. Miami. The Thunder are seen as maybe a point worse the Spurs at most in market equivalent Power Ratings right now. That’s almost neck-and-neck with a team that’s on a 20-1 tear!
Maybe San Antonio puts the hammer down Saturday and retakes control of the series. We have to say though that the odds of an OKC comeback are better than are generally in place after a series underdog wins Game Three. The Thunder have made adjustments that matter. The ball is now in San Antonio’s court in terms of doing the same things. The Spurs can’t keep getting killed in the paint. They can’t turn the ball over 21 times. And, they may now have to spread the floor defensively in a way they hadn’t been expecting.
SAN ANTONIO VS. OKLAHOMA CITY
Game Four Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 3.5, total of 202.5
San Antonio leads 2-1
There was some tweaking for the bounce-back tendency toward San Antonio…but not as much as might have been expected given playoff history. As we said a moment ago, the market respects Oklahoma City. And, it should be pointed out that the market never did respect San Antonio as much as the Spurs deserved during their fantastic run. If San Antonio loses out, they will still go down in history as one of the greatest full season pointspread teams ever. You have to decide if tonight’s line is properly respecting OKC, or improperly disrespecting the Spurs.
The total has dropped from 204 in the last game as the 102-82 final missed expectations by a mile. Some of this is also due to the general tendency for scoring to slow down the deeper you get in a series. Defenses get more intense. Possessions take longer to execute so pace calms down. Note that pace factor slowed WAY down from 98-98 in the first two games to just 91 possessions per team Thursday Night. Vegas will need to drop its Over/Unders by a lot more than two points if that trend continues.
JIM HURLEY has been focusing his information gathering on San Antonio adjustments. The Thunder presented them with some very interesting challenges on both sides of the floor in Game Three. What happens in the “chess match” will determine who’s likely to cover…and what kind of scoring totals that team will inspire.
GAME THREE SUMMARY
OKLAHOMA CITY 102, SAN ANTONIO 82
Field Goal Pct: San Antonio 40%, Oklahoma City 46%
Three-Pointers: San Antonio 11/26, Oklahoma City 6/22
Free Throws: San Antonio 11/15, Oklahoma City 16/17
Rebounds: San Antonio 41, Oklahoma City 44
Turnovers: San Antonio 21, Oklahoma City 7
Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 4, total of 204
Two things jump out to us. First, turnovers were almost unbelievable. You rarely see a playoff game so one-sided in that stat. And, this is a direct result of the adjustments that OKC coach Scott Brooks made between games. OKC’s defense completely flustered the Spurs, while their offense moved the ball around with little risk.
The second thing is three-point shooting. Oklahoma City won a blowout despite having a relatively poor night from long range. This is a very good sign for the future because they’ll probably do better than 6 of 22. Note that Oklahoma City lost treys by 15 points in a game they won by 20 points. That’s a 35-point edge on one-pointers and two-pointers!
Had trey production been reversed, we would have been skeptical of OKC going forward because they weren’t likely to win that stat so handily again. But, they won a blowout despite losing that stat handily. That’s generally a big deal in postseason basketball.
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Boston at Toronto
4:00 p.m. ET Highlights
Atlanta at Washington
Miami at Philadelphia
St. Louis at NY Mets
Baltimore at Tampa Bay
FOX Prime Time Regional Highlights
NY Yankees at Detroit
Cincinnati at Houston
Late Night Thriller
Texas at LA Angels (Darvish vs. Wilson!)
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Back with you Sunday to preview Game Four of the Miami-Boston series right here in the NOTEBOOK. Be sure you’re with us every day so you know what’s really happening in the NBA playoffs! And link up with handicapping legend JIM HURLEY for BIG JUICY WINNERS!