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The Adjustment Bureau: Game 5 of the WCF

By Jeff Koch on June 3, 2012.

The old pivot game. Statistically speaking, whichever team wins this game will most likely go on to win the series. Erase everything that has happened in Games 1-4, as they only matter tangentially. These teams are dead even, and the 4 games have more or less borne out that truth.

Here are some thoughts heading into Game 5 Monday night:

–In the 2 games in OKC, the 2nd quarter was our bugaboo in both games. In Game 3, we were -15 in quarter 2, -5 the remainder of the game. In Game 4, we were -12 in Quarter 2, and +6 the rest of the game. Taking away the 2nd quarters, we were +1 in OKC. Essentially even. The top of the 2nd quarter is usually a strength for the Spurs, as the benches duke it out. But that is trending down. Look for some rotation adjustments specifically to counter this fact (methinks it will include the exclusion of one Mr. Matt Bonner).

–I think we’ll see some rotation changes either way. I think Blair has won his way into the rotation, and Bonner has shot (or not shot) his way out of the rotation. I think Splitter will be on a short leash. Ditto Green. Jackson will continue to get more playing time, as will Leonard. Of all the possible changes, this is what I’m most excited to see play out.

–As I mentioned in my Game 4 recap, one radical change might be to start Jackson and Leonard together at the 2 and the 3. I don’t think we’ll see that, but I do expect more court time for those two players together, given their length, defensive tenacity, toughness, and ability to drive and shoot offensively.

–For some historical perspective, the last 10 times the Spurs have been tied 2-2, they’ve won 9 of those series. The one loss was with Derek Fisher’s miracle shot. He misses that shot, the Spurs win that game and maybe that series. Basically, if history is any indication, I still like our odds. (And Derek Fisher isn’t walking through that door. Wait…well, you know what I mean.)

–The Thunder have less history in these situations (obviously), but they are 1-1. They lost to the Lakers 2 years ago in 6, after running the Lakers off their home floor in Games 3 and 4 (the Lakers won Game 5 at home and Game 6 back in OKC), so that should give some solace to Spurs fans. Last year, with home court advantage, they beat the Grizzlies in 7 after splitting the first four games.

–Considering how poorly Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan all played in both games, it’s a miracle we almost stole Game 4. Just a marginal increase in efficiency from all 3 players (which should be expected coming home and given their track records of excellence) should be enough to get a win at home.

–Conversely, we should expect a regression to the mean for Ibaka and Perkins. Again, take away 3 of their baskets, and Game 4 is a completely different game. Overall, the Spurs “others” should play better in Game 5, and the Thunder’s “others” should play worse.

–Back to the first point, while the eye test doesn’t necessarily bear it out, the offense hasn’t been as bad as it’s looked. In the second half of Game 4 in particular, we scored 60 points, to the Thunder’s 54. With the insertion of Blair, the offense seemed to find some spark again. I expect all facets of the offense to be much sharper in Game 5, and I expect the pace to be quicker, which, perhaps surprisingly to many, benefits the Spurs. A lot.

–I don’t want to overreact to one amazing 5-minute stretch, but if the game is close in the 4th quarter, I expect anybody but Durant to be shooting the ball.

–Honestly, the biggest adjustment for the rest of the series is probably between the ears. Coaches can do plenty, but they can’t control players psyches and emotions. The Thunder did nothing in Games 3 and 4 that the Spurs didn’t do in Games 1 and 2, they just happened more recently. This series is still up for grabs, with the Spurs holding the home court edge. As long as they believe that and play accordingly. For a team that is renowned as one of the smartest and mentally tough in the league, this will be a real test of that.

And if they truly are mentally strong, they should readily accept that challenge.

Game 5 is Monday night in San Antonio.

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