Spurs’ strong 4th quarter pushes them past Thunder for early series lead
The consensus is this: when facing an elite team in the NBA, get ready for that team to find your biggest weakness, and get ready for them to take advantage of it. That had to have been in the minds of the Oklahoma City players last night. The Thunder knew that the Spurs are the best at doing just that and last night…well, one couldn’t find a better example. San Antonio controlled the paint and the 4th quarter against the Thunder last night, turning the game into a rout to take an early lead in the western conference finals. Was anyone THAT surprised that the Spurs were going to take advantage of the Ibaka injury like that? From the start of the game, it was evident that San Antonio was going to do pretty much what it wanted in the paint. How big of an advantage was it for the Spurs? 40 points in the paint in the first half and after the final buzzer went off, a 66 to 32 advantage over the Thunder. And it wasn’t just one single player doing the damage. Kawhi Leonard had his spectacular plays in the paint, while Tim Duncan (27 pts, 7 reb) did his methodical, time-reversing work in the paint. It’s still pretty incredible to watch Duncan, almost 40, continuing to show the young guys of the league how it’s done. Same goes for Manu Ginobli, who, teamed with Tony Parker, played about as well as back court this year. But all of this gushing over the Spurs doesn’t mean that it was easy for them for the entire game. The Thunder did a nice job responding to the Spurs. Anytime it seemed like San Antonio was going to turn the game into a rout, there was Durant and Westbrook, making a big shot or throwing down the slam in the paint to keep the Thunder hanging around. They even took the lead for a bit during the 3rd quarter. Oklahoma City does pose a match up problem for the Spurs but it’s going to take more a superhuman effort from their superstars to get wins in this series. Is that possible? Of course. But they need more support from their surrounding players. By the middle of the final quarter, it was evident that the Thunder had run out of gas and the Spurs were there to take full advantage. Still, I like the Spurs but I also like the Thunder to put up a nice fight.
Miami is ready to get even. Both in the series and in every aspect of tonight’s game (8:30 ET ESPN) against the Pacers. After the Pacers’ impressive victory in game 1, how will the Heat respond? I have a feeling that LeBron James and co. will respond well but don’t think for a minute that it’s going to be easy. Indiana showed poise and effort in front of their home crowd during the last game and I don’t expect it to go away. Just remember: this eastern conference finals series is what the Pacers were looking forward to all season. This is their time and their chance to put a rest to the Miami Heat dynasty in the conference. What more motivation than that for Indiana? And what more motivation does Miami need? Every NBA team that has ever won three titles in a row has faced their biggest obstacle in the third year. Miami is tired. Tired because they’ve played so many games these past few years and tired because people are starting to doubt them. Not wanting to face a deadly 0-2 hole, tonight is the Heat’s chance to make this a series. Will they prove that they’re still the favorite to win the conference and, as a result, the title? Or will we see Indiana build off their game 1 performance to take a commanding lead in the series? Miami usually responds well after losing the first game and I expect the trend to continue. My trust for Indiana is still low and it’s hard for me to pick them in this series. Either way, should be an excellent game.
One, quick, last look at the second round’s best plays