By Joe Munley
The crystal ball has proven to be crystal clear thus far in this series. The Spurs came out with an energy level that the Thunder hadn’t seen in any of their previous series. For Durant & Co. it must have been like looking in the mirror playing against San Antonio during the first two games.
As expected, Tony Parker ran Westbrook around, Ginobli matched Harden’s intensity off the bench, and Popovich ran exactly the right schemes at exactly the right time. The Thunder were on the ropes, and it didn’t look good.
Then the scene switched to OKC where the Thunder enjoy playing in front of a crowd so loud they sound like, well, thunder. They stopped settling for contested jump shots in frustration when the Spurs switched off on pick and rolls. Instead, they made the extra pass and ‘settled’ for either wide open jumpers or wide open layups. They forced the game to be played at their tempo & it was the Spurs’ turn to look in the mirror in frustration.
So, now the series is knotted up at 2-2. The scene is switching back to San Antonio for Game 5 & then back to OKC for Game 6. Where does the crystal ball see this series going now?
The Spurs will come out and win Game 5. The Spurs bench – which disappeared in OKC – will get back into the mix in front of the home crowd. Parker, Duncan, and Ginobli will up their own level of play as well & you can expect the Thunder to succumb to the frustration of Pops’ defensive schemes in front of a loud San Antonio crowd.
Again, the mirror will be rolled out when the series lands in OKC for Game 6. With the crowd pressing down on the Spurs, the Thunder will force a Game 7 back in Texas.
I still believe the series will hinge on Kevin Durant. For a guy that is so bent on claiming his stake in the upper tier of the league, there is no bigger stage – save for the Finals – than a Game 7 on the road. Durant is up for the challenge. It is clear that Durant put his team on his back in the fourth quarter of Game 4, but that was at home. The next phase in his evolution as an elite player is to do the same for his team in a big game on the road.
I expect him to do it and move on to that even bigger stage. The Finals.