Game 5 preview: The Spurs in must-win mode in season’s final home game
After a Game 1 that appeared to set the stage for a meticulously close series between two teams with hardly a gap between them, the box score of the previous three contests would lead the casual observer to believe they weren’t even close. An average margin of victory of nearly 23.7 points has hidden the reality that these games were teetering in the balance deep into at least the third quarter, and a stretch of plays here or there have been the difference in what have been deceptively close contests.
And while blowouts one way or the other tend to evoke quite an emotional response from the respective fanbases (it was jubilation in the AT&T Center after Game 3, dejection after Game 4), margin of victories tend to matter little to the players on the court.
“I think a loss is a loss and a win is a win in the playoffs. I mean, (Miami) blew us out in Game 2 and we responded in Game 3; we blew them out in Game 3 and they responded in Game 4,” Matt Bonner said. “The hardest thing to do is keep an even keel. After losses don’t get down, after wins don’t get relaxed. It’s part of being human, and you just have to do your best to fight it one way or the other and try to keep that even keel.”
The San Antonio Spurs mindset is one that has been molded by an even-keeled hand. Gregg Popovich has always preached the importance of a stable approach, whether it’s on or off the court. Half-assing it is unacceptable and going 100 percent is too much. Granted, this is the time of year where the intensity level is ramped up to the highest possible notch, but that still doesn’t change the cruciality of balance.
Looking forward to Game 5
- I do believe it’s safe to say the first thing on the mind of Spurs fans and media alike is the status of Manu Ginobili. The struggles of the San Antonio sixth man have been well-documented throughout the course of this series, but they’re still startling to revisit. Ginobili is averaging 4 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds while shooting 30 percent from the floor in the Finals, numbers that almost certainly won’t help the Spurs win a fifth title. Manu has mentioned he’s been trying to get his teammates going, which is a major responsibility of his and something that’s necessary to the team’s success. But right now they need him to be an attacker. San Antonio needs his points in a big way right now, because if he’s getting those the scoring will come. As Duncan said, the Spurs need Manu to be more selfish. Whether or not that would be a sound strategy remains to be seen. Hold your breath.
- How do the Spurs adjust defensively? Through the first three games, the Heat had sort of played into the hands of San Antonio’s strategy. Pop had decided to deter LeBron James from attacking the basket by packing the paint and generally conceding the middle ground, inviting the MVP to pull up and take jumpers. And LeBron had obliged. He was spending a lot of time in isolation, slowing down in the frontcourt and pounding the dribble out from 18-24 feet. He failed to find his rhythm and the strategy appeared to be working. Until James realized the ridiculousness of the whole situation. From the second he crossed the timeline in Game 4 he was starting into a dead sprint toward the basket. He was like a bowling ball. The Spurs were the pins at the end of the lane. Granted, it’s going to take a ton of energy for the Heat to replicate Thursday’s performance. When a team plays with its hair on fire defensively while still attacking at high speed offensively, it’s going to take a level of stamina that’s difficult to achieve for most teams. But Miami is accustomed to this style of play. And despite not typically duplicating it from one game to the next, two days off and a chance to take a stranglehold on the series before heading back home may be incentive enough to do it.
- The Heat were ready for nearly every move the Spurs made offensively in Game 4, so after the time Pop’s been given to head back to the drawing board, it should be fun to see what sort of adjustments he’s been able to apply to the game plan. San Antonio cannot have 19 turnovers again this evening. Throughout this series, giveaways have had a fairly direct correlation to the outcome. The Spurs have averaged 18 in their two losses and 8 in their two wins (the 4 turnovers in Game 1 are pretty anomalous, so don’t expect another numbers that low). If they can keep that number in the 12-turnover range, then they’ll likely be in decent shape.
- If there’s anything worse than turning the ball over to the Heat, it’s giving them second-chance opportunities. Miami is going to force some turnovers. It’s the defending champs’ specialty. But they were the worst rebounding team in the NBA during the regular season, and they still won 66 games. When San Antonio does its job on the defensive end, securing the ball is paramount. Pop has repeated it all year long, the possession isn’t over until the rebound is secured. The Spurs must execute beautifully tonight in every aspect of the game.
- Tim Duncan must make the Heat’s small lineup pay. San Antonio’s Big 3 of Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker must do better than the 40 they combined for in Game 4, and if Parker does his thing, that starts with Duncan winning his interior matchup. And it’s not just points — Timmy had 20 on Thursday — Duncan needs to grab more than five rebounds for the Spurs to dominate inside.
- Tony Parker said his hamstring “could tear anytime,” so let’s get through the Finals before that happens? Or, ya know, maybe don’t let it happen at all. Wadda ya say?
- When Duncan, Parker and Ginobili play, the Spurs haven’t lost consecutive games since December. Remember that one.
Last home game of the season, Spurs fans. These two teams are a bit fresher after two full days off, so we might be in for a real treat. It’s also the most crucial game of the series thus far (obviously), and with a win, each team would be one step away from a title.
It does not get better than this, so enjoy it.