The San Antonio Spurs still have home court advantage in the Western Conference Finals. That is important to remember as the series shifts back to Texas for tonight's pivotal Game Five.
For as good as the Oklahoma City Thunder have played to even out this series during the last two games, they have not won over by the Riverwalk yet -- something the Thunder must do to win this series. Until they do that, the Spurs will remain in control. I do not expect anything to change later on tonight either.
Oklahoma City has reason to feel good about itself though.
The Thunder have come a long way to tie this series up, and most people did leave them for dead about a week ago when the series left San Antonio.
But for as much as the Thunder have done to make this a series, that is all they have done so far. They dug a hole for themselves going down 0-2, and they have climbed their way out.
But will their collective game travel when things tip off at 9 p.m. ET at AT&T Center, away from the friendly, and loud, confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena? I do not think so, not completely at least.
The Thunder have played great recently. I am not taking anything away from that. But it is worth noting that they did win Game Four by only six points, at home, on a night when Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins combined to shoot 18 of 20 from the floor for 41 points.There is no way those two guys do that again tonight in San Antonio. I am talking more to Perkins here.
I would set their combined over/under at 25 points too, and bet the under. Perkins will not get eight tonight. If I am wrong, I'll use his mean mug as a screen saver for three days. If I am right, who else scores for OKC beside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?
Charles Barkely made a good point recently, and I am sure he is not the only person to ever say it. Role players, or these "others" pundits have been referring to lately, play better at home because they want the home crowd to cheer for them. Same as saying they feed off that home court energy I guess. But there is something a little different by putting it that way.
There will not be anybody cheering for Kendrick Perkins tonight. Nobody will care about what Derek Fisher or Thabo Sefolosha do either. They certainly will not be getting encouragement if shots do not fall early or they fail to establish an offensive rhythm.
Serge Ibaka, for instance, averaged 10.0 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game at home. He hit on 59.7 percent of his shots. On the road, he posted 8.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 47.4 percent from the field. In the Playoffs, Ibaka's home/road split is 12.3 points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game and 61.7 percent shooting (buoyed by two fantastic performances in Games Three and Four of the Western Conference Finals) compared to 9.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and 48.1 percent shooting on the road.
James Harden's statistics looked similar, scoring 18.8 points per game and shooting 54.7 percent at home in the regular season compared to 15.1 points per game and shooting 44.1 percent on the road. Although, his Playoff splits are 15.3 points per game and 42.4 percent shooting at home compared to 20.2 points per game and 46.3 percent shooting on the road.
Obviously with players like Perkins, Sefolosha and Fisher, the changes in their energy lead to subtle changes on their and their opponent's stats.
The flip side of this argument would be that Russell Westbrook is not going to go 2 of 10 for seven points again either. Those five-year diehard Thunder fans might argue that OKC won by six with Wesbrook having his worst game possible. That's a fair point. But Tony Parker and Manu Ginobilli are not combining to go 9 of 22 for with 7 turnovers and a plus/minus between them of -10 like they did in Game Four either.
Not to get all Dr. Melfi on it here, but that big brother dynamic is most certainly in play in this series.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobilli, and Tony Parker have been doing this thing for a minute now. They are healthy, they are all still capable of playing at a high level, and they are confident in their ability to adjust and respond.
Scott Brooks has made some solid moves and adjustments in this series. The Thabo move in Game Three paid dividends. It still did defensively in Game Four with regards to Parker. But Gregg Popovich will adjust, he IS Gregg freaking Popovich. And his veteran group will listen.
I personally think Kendrick Perkins going for 15 points with 9 rebounds on 7-for-9 shooting in 33 minutes will come back to haunt OKC in Game Five. The Thunder still match-up better going small.
There are two games worth of film out there now on what Thabo has been doing up top with Tony Parker. San Antonio will make a counter move made tonight, and I do not think Oklahoma City will respond in time to win Game Five.
This series will eventually go seven Games. I expect San Antonio to win tonight however. When it swings back for the deciding Game Seven, I think the Spurs will win that one too. Even if OKC and Kevin Durant continue to give one helluva an effort in the process.
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