HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — After each and every game in this hotly contested Western Conference finals, the urge to make grand predictions about the final outcome has hit all of us.
Two games in it seemed as if the Spurs would not lose. They were unblemished since April 11 and hadn’t shown any signs of slowing down, not even against a Thunder team considered by many to be the closest thing to their equal at this point of the season.
Two games later it’s hard to see how the Thunder could have gotten their noses rearranged the way they did in those first two games. They drafted on the energy of their home crowd and the adjustments made after Games 1 and 2, and showed us all that invincibility in this series has a 48-hour shelf life and has yet to make it through airport security.
If anything, all we know after four games is that this series is everything we imagined it would be when the conference semifinals ended and the matchup was made. The Spurs and Thunder head back to the starting line for Monday night’s Game 5 like it’s May 27 all over again, heavyweights set to do battle in what now boils down to a best of-3 series with the Thunder needing to crack the Spurs’ armor on their home floor.
Anyone wanting to revise their predictions on this series from five or six games to the full and epic seven will not be penalized. There really is only a sliver of difference between these two teams, and in this series it remains that home court advantage. (That third quarter lead the Thunder couldn’t hold on to in Game 1 might very well turn out to be the defining moment of this series.) These teams are a combined 13-0 at home in this postseason.
Both teams have seen their superstars perform at the their standard levels at times, with Tony Parker carrying the banner in San Antonio and Kevin Durant doing the same in Oklahoma City. Both teams needed surprise performances from someone else to get the business done, a season-high 26 points from Manu Ginobili bolstered the cause for the Spurs at home while Serge Ibaka responded with a perfect and career playoff-high 26 points of his own in Game 4 last night in Oklahoma City.
You heard it after Game 2, “when the Spurs’ role players bring it the way they did tonight and Parker and Ginobili do their thing, they can survive a 2-for-11 shooting performance from Tim Duncan and still win.”
You’ll hear something similar today regarding the Thunder, “when Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison shoot 22-for-25 from the floor and Durant score 16 straight points during crunch time, no one in basketball can beat this team.”
Of course, none of these things transpire in a vacuum. And what looks inevitable today and invincible tomorrow can be undone in matter of minutes the day after that.
If it’s strictly about the venue and the home team owning both the tangible and cosmic advantages when they are playing in their comfort zone, then we know the script for these next three games — yes, that would be three more games.
“The pressure is always on the road team,” TNT’s Charles Barkley said last night. “San Antonio did not have to win here [in OKC], OKC has to win in San Antonio.”
Shaquille O’Neal followed that up with this reasonable prediction, “whoever wins the next game will win the series.”
But this is one of those cases where conventional wisdom might not apply.
That experience gap between the seasoned Spurs and the young Thunder was rendered useless in Games 3 and 4. That gulf in coaching genius between reigning Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich and 2010 winner Scott Brooks doesn’t seem so enormous now, does it?
If you didn’t know better, you’d struggle to pick out the team whose core has combined for four championships during their time together and the team whose core group is in just its fourth season together.
If this series turns out to be the epic, seven-game classic so many wished, hoped and believed it could be, the one player who has proved to be a virtually unstoppable force for either side (Durant) should realistically give his team the edge …
Then again, what looks inevitable today and invincible tomorrow can be undone in matter of minutes the day after that.
Luckily, we don’t have to wait that long to find out how the next chapter in this saga plays out.