Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Sunday Night’s series opener in the Oklahoma City/San Antonio series reminded all of us why we love basketball so much. This wasn’t one of those nightmare games from the East where neither team could throw the ball in the ocean. There was a championship energy from opening tip to final bucket featuring some of the very best players in the game.
*Players you’ll see in that great opening montage of champions that ABC does before each game in the Finals…and players that will earn their way into that montage in the future.
*All Star caliber point guards…two sixth men who are the equivalent of all-star starters…and a beautiful passing game from one team lined up against the dramatic one-on-one skills of the other.
*And, hopefully, a pace and tempo that will provide excitement throughout the full series. Game One was the fastest game of the whole playoffs this year in terms of pace factor. The series doesn’t have to be THAT fast to be great. But, these are teams who can handle pace when confronted with it.
The main question now is whether or not Oklahoma City has the horses and experience to make this a truly great series. It looked they would for three quarters Sunday Night. Heck, it looked like they might be the better team for three quarters Sunday Night. But, an overpowering fourth quarter performance from San Antonio suddenly had people wondering if:
*Oklahoma City would have the composure to play in crunch time. They struggled when it mattered last year vs. Dallas, and mentally disappeared in the fourth quarter Sunday. Being competitive for three quarters per game would only yield a disastrous sweep!
*Russell Westbrook has matured enough to be a true leader in the playoffs. He had another horrible shooting night, which was the theme of last year’s loss to Dallas. He didn’t have any meltdowns or temper tantrums, which is a step forward. But, he’s still shooting too many jumpers from outside his comfort zone, and forcing too many things that just aren’t there.
*Scott Brooks was in over his head as a coach against Gregg Popovich (a lot of that going around). Brooks didn’t make any meaningful adjustments during the fourth quarter collapse. And, Serge Ibaka inexplicably sat on the bench during the entire defensive meltdown. Try something! San Antonio is a brainier team because they’ve got the brainier coach.
Put those elements together…and you have a potential “crunch time” mismatch night in and night out. San Antonio can win the point guard and head coaching positions, which puts them in position to execute best when it matters most.
All that being said, Oklahoma City still covered the spread thanks to some late three pointers. You’ll have to evaluate the teams AND the market prices as you try to pick winners.
SAN ANTONIO vs. OKLAHOMA CITY
Game Two Vegas Line: San Antonio by 4.5, total of 201
San Antonio leads 1-0
We see a slight drop from the line of -5.5 that closed for Game One. Some of that is from the natural bounce-back tendencies in the market on any Game One loser. And, Oklahoma City sure looked competitive most of the night. That plus a late cover suggests they can either win clean, or rally from behind if needed. It’s hard to beat OKC “bad,” which means they offer value as a dog.
The total has dropped back to the spot of the Game One opener from the Game One closer of 204. There was A LOT of support for the Over from respected betting sources Sunday Night. The game really never had a chance to get there, with a huge late push getting into the neighborhood at least. The Wise Guys correctly anticipated a very fast tempo…but didn’t get much help from the refs (lower FT totals than you’d expect for that pace, which resulted in a high turnover count).
JIM HURLEY is working closely with his sources to find out what he can about adjustments from Game One, and working with his statheads and trend historians to see what the data from Game One might suggest about what’s ahead for Game Two. Let’s run those numbers here ourselves.
GAME ONE SUMMARY
SAN ANTONIO 101, OKLAHOMA CITY 98
Field Goal Pct: Oklahoma City 42%, San Antonio 46%
Three-Pointers: Oklahoma City 9/23, San Antonio 8/24
Free Throws: Oklahoma City 19/23, San Antonio 17/25
Rebounds: Oklahoma City 43, San Antonio 50
Turnovers: Oklahoma City 13, San Antonio 16
Vegas Line: San Antonio by 5.5, total of 204
This can be tricky because we really had two separate games on Sunday. Oklahoma City won the first three quarters thanks largely to forcing turnovers on defense and holding their own on the boards. Well the dam busted in the fourth quarter…the Spurs stopped making turnovers…Oklahoma City started forcing up bad shots…San Antonio rebounded the misses…and the Thunder turned from a roar to a whimper faster than you could say “Why is Ibaka still on the bench?”
In terms of the full four quarters, San Antonio wins the very important categories of defense and rebounding by important margins. You regulars know we always emphasize those. The full season indicator stats we ran in the series preview suggested that OKC might have a tiny edge. That’s not what happened. San Antonio had a significant edge.,..one that would allow them to win this series in probably 5-6 games if it holds up.
The Spurs do a good job normally of making treys. They weren’t particularly solid here with 8 of 24. It’s scary for OKC fans that SA will probably have at least one or two games better than that ahead. And, it’s a reminder of how important it is for OKC to win the inside game. Here they actually outshot the Spurs from long range thanks to some last second bombs…yet they still couldn’t win. (Plus, it was going to be a category loss until garbage time saved the stat).
If you watched the game on TV, you probably marveled at how “long” Oklahoma City was playing defensively in the first half. The Spurs sure weren’t used to that, and kept turning the ball over as a result. If the second half represents San Antonio adjusting to and dealing with OKC’s length, then that’s just more bad news for the Thunder. What was obviously a strength out of the gate was neutralized by having Manu Ginobili drive through the forest instead of having everyone trying to pass over the branches.
Obviously Tuesday Night’s rematch as a monster game for the Thunder. They’ll either establish that this is going to be a great series that goes the distance…or they’ll show that they’re just not ready yet to outperform another veteran team from Texas. Experience matters in the playoffs. OKC may still be in their growing pains phase.
JIM HURLEY has at least one strong play Tuesday on the side or total. Check the ad box on the home page of this website for the final word. And, don’t forget about baseball! Games of interest tonight include:
St. Louis at Atlanta
Washington at Florida
Philadelphia at NY Mets
Detroit at Boston
NY Yankees at LA Angels
Baseball season is really heating up with what could turn out to be great pennant races in multiple divisions. If you have any questions about basketball or baseball service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about including race day at the Belmont when you check in. It’s easy to add the final jewel in the Triple Crown to any monthly or seasonal package. We will have special offers for just the race itself, or the full day’s card at Belmont. (Start Spreadin’ the News!)
Back with you tomorrow to preview Game Two of Boston-Miami. Now…GO GET THE MONEY with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!