Oklahoma City Thunder 108, San Antonio Spurs 103: Thunder sieze the moment

by

AT&T CENTER–The adjustment by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was simple in theory; insert Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup in hopes of reigniting a staggering team.

Force the dynamic defensive tandem of Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka to decide which of the Spurs two elite playmakers to contend with by pairing Ginobili and Tony Parker together for as much time as possible.

For a moment it even worked. Ginobili’s presence in the starting lineup imbued the opening minutes with a frenetic chaos and pace the Spurs thrived on. Between twisting drives, threaded-needle passing, and out of nowhere steals, Ginobili almost singlehandedly willed the Spurs to a fast start with seven first quarter points and three assists.

But when push comes to shove between two great teams–and these are two great teams–the answers aren’t necessarily in the game-to-game adjustments. The Oklahoma City Thunder eventually adapted, settling the pace once the second units began to trickle in, and taking a first quarter lead.

“Changes take a little bit of time to adjust to,” Ginobili said. “But not many times when two great teams play against each other do X’s and O’s make the difference.”

Sometimes resolve simply comes from big players in big moments.

Behind a resurgent 11-point fourth quarter from Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs had managed to cut a double-digit deficit to two points in the closing seconds. His team reeling, James Harden found himself, ball in hands, against both the shot clock and formidable reach of Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard.

With a quick series of dance steps from left-to-right-and-back, Harden created just enough separation from Leonard to unsheathe a dagger of a three-pointer.

“The play was for Kevin [Durant] and the shot clock was going down, that is why I had to make a play,” Harden said. “I think Kawhi Leonard was playing very good defense on me and I just had to make a shot. I just went back to my mechanics and the ball with confidence and it went in.”

Harden’s three-pointer to extend the Thunder’s lead to five with less than 30 seconds left was the stuff of legends. It was Derek Fisher and 0.4. It was Manu Ginobili fouling Dirk Nowitzki as he barreled towards the lane down three. It was Robert Horry doing any number of things that Robert Horry used to do.

In short, it was the kind of improbable shot that comes to define championship runs.

“Bottom line, every season we won the championship we’ve had situations like that,” Ginobili said of Harden’s shot. “And every season we lost, we had those too.”

These San Antonio Spurs will have at least one more opportunity to find a defining moment of their own, if only because they have proven time and again they will not go down without a fight.

Sloppy play and a listless bench made quarters two and three as frustrating as any the San Antonio Spurs had experienced all year. Between Sefolosha and Ibaka, the Thunder have concocted a mixture of length and athleticism that has rendered Tony Parker wildly mediocre to the tune of five turnovers and 5-of-14 shooting.

With Ginobili accounting for five turnovers of his own, the Spurs surrendered 21 turnovers and 28 easy points to a team capable of scoring just as many difficult ones.

“You can’t turn it over 21 times for 28 points against a team that good,” Popovich said. “I thought we spotted them 24  minutes. I didn’t think we competed very well in the first half, and that’s not good enough against a team as good as they are.”

Only the bright play of Manu Ginobili (34 points, seven assists), like a candle flickering valiantly against a heavy wind, kept the Spurs within arms’ reach of the Thunder heading into the fourth quarter before Harden’s shot seemingly extinguished them for good.

Following a Ginobili layup, Kawhi Leonard was able to use his own considerable reach to deflect a pass off Sefolosha and out of bounds after the Spurs were able to successfully trap Durant in the backcourt. But the Thunder had the Spurs ensuing inbounds play well-scouted, keeping stride-for-stride with Manu Ginobili as he curled off a series of baseline screens, eventually settling for a desperation heave.

“[The shot was] not as open as we wanted, but at least I let it fly,” Ginobili said. “It wasn’t a great shot, but it wasn’t a bad one either. It just didn’t go in.”

Sometimes for all the adjustments in the world, these are the biggest differences in the game.

  • TD BestEVER

    Lets be real – THIS Series has flipped on POP playing WEIRD Rotations and that really DUMB last play call from POP……..

    Our Small ball lineup with Blair or Splitter at the Center got ATE ALIVE, because the Spurs don’t have the bench to play 4 smalls ANYMORE and everyone knows that BUT POP…………………

    And why didn’t Manu just POP to the top of the KEY near half court and catch the ball and run and high PNR with TD?????????????   Set a double down screen for him and run it.  The last play took too long to develop with only 15sec on the game clock.  

    POP is getting OUT COACHED right now – that and the Thunder are making more shots
     

  • Finnobili

    I’m lookin’ forward to game 7, so…

  • Irontalon

    Can’t really put this on pop. At some point the role players have to man up and not shrink from the moment. Right now the thunder bench is out playing and out hustling the spurs bench. Green is MIA and I am suprised it took till Game 5 for pop to reduce his role. Bonner really doesn’t need explanation. Splitter and Diaw have been very hit or miss and Blair simply gives up more than he gives the team. The only guys who seem to be playing with fire are Leonard (a pleasant suprise), Jackson (been a rock this entire series) and Neal (bad shooting night, but at least doesn’t play intimidated).

    The thunder role players are all coming up HUGE, and really are answering the call from the Spurs gaming to shut down their big 3. To take this to 7 we need the supporting cast to step up and dominate their matchup with the Thunder supporting guys.

    As tacky as talking lineup changes are, I feel like we should start Parker, Neal, Leonard, Jackson and Duncan. Those 5 will bring intensity and saves Manu to salvage our bench minutes (absolutely killed us last night).

    I saw flashes of it in the second half. We just need to want it more than the thunder (and boy do they want it bad). Impose our will, its the only way to win. If we come out without any resolve (like that disastrous stretch midgame) we are going to be smoked, plain and simple

  • junierizzle

    That’s what I was going to write. Pop messed up the rotations and offense so bad to the.point where the Spurs had no idea what to do out there. Where are all the high screen and rolls with Duncan, period? He puts in Blair and doesn’t run one pick n roll? He’s making it too easy for the Thunder to defend. Why are they trying to force feed Duncan in the post, when all year hes been shooting that elbow jumper and screening and rolling? The ball stands still and is predictable when TD posts up. TD can still post sparingly but that wasn’t his game this year. And they have completely abandoned the Pick n roll They used run a pick n roll over and over until the D didn’t stop it. That’s how they wore teams down. Eventually teams just get tired, which is what happened in games one and two. Pop basically said we’re doing something completely different now.
    Its not all Pops fault though, just like last year our guys with the exception of Many and Jackson, don’t want to shoot with a hand in their face.
    They can win if they just play Spurs basketball, but they haven’t played they since game 2. Our only hope is Pop saying “screw it, if we go out we are going to play like we’ve been playing all year.” They are so good that even when they look horrible they still put op over a hundred, imagine if they played like they are supposed to play.

  • Mark H

    The adjustments on offense have been sufficient to get us back to plus-100 points.  It’s our defense that’s lacking.  Shave some points from OKC’s offensive production, try to hold serve on our offensive production, and we can win game 6.  But, given that our confidence is shaky, I view game 6 as a one quarter proposition, that is, OKC needs just one good quarter to break us.  This means, of course, that we need to hit them hard for four quarters.      

  • Titletown99030507d

    What the hell was that when Pop made his first substitution for TD and inserted Bonner for one possession then quickly took him out and put Splitter like he was supposed to. Boy did he ever send a message to Splitter. Bad timing Pop you don’t do that in the playoffs for mindf*$k sake. Nice one Pop just go ahead and tell him he sucks. You might as well do the same for Danny, Neal, Blair and Timmy & Parker (games 3&4). I predicted Manu would save us in game 5 but I didn’t predict some of the others would lay an egg and the coach would forget how to coach.
    This team and their coach is not the same team that won the first 10 games in the playoffs. They are being held hostage somewhere in a dark deep hole without a rope to climb out of.  Every single one of them are going to have to reach deep down inside themselves and revive that confidence and BBIQ they displayed in the first 10 games of these playoffs. WAKE UP DAMN IT!

    That coach of the year award right about now feels utterly embarrassing. We are a joke. I don’t feel like laughing right now.

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    I understand Pop starting Manu and I’m smh about people saying the change made the team sloppy. The Spurs haven’t taken care of the ball this series, no matter who’s in the lineup.
    I’m just guessing here, but Pop was tired of seeing TP shut down by Sefolosha and not getting any wear and tear on Westbrook. Putting Manu out there made Westbrook work more, and he didn’t have a great line at all.

    Was it a shock to anyone that they play the Spurs ran at the end last night is identical to the one the NBA shows for their BIG campaign? Cutters are coming…. hell, TD was wide open, just about 7 feet farther away than what would be a comfortable shot for him.

  • Mchen_316

    Thank you Irontalon for the voice of sanity. Does anyone really think Pop wants to play 4 guards with Blair or Splitter? Come on, this series is turning on the disappearance of Green, Bonner and to a smaller degree Parker. The spurs can’t good looks on the top of the key PnR when the thunder are switching and Perkins has the athleticism to stay with Parker or Parker isn’t agressive enough one on one against a big. The spurs are getting killed in the 2nd quarter in the last three games, they need to find a working second unit to get it back for game 7.

  • junierizzle

    That’s the whole point. They stop TP once so they nix the pick n roll.? All year long if they stop it once then they bring it out and try it again. What happened to the Spurs team that would run 3 or 4 pick n rolls in the same possession? If OKC stops all those pick n rolls then oh well, at least you lost playing your game.

    And a lot of that is on Pop for not making them do it.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NZWC5AWHYAARWR66WIRK7RRWXA Sarge

    I’m preparing myself for disappointment, so I don’t think the Spurs get Game 6.  And I don’t put much of this on Pop, either.  Some of the most important bench guys for the team have just not played well.  Period.  The only reason this team is deep is because we have guys that can produce.  What happens when they’re not producing?  We’re not deep.

    I also think that the way this team is constructed, you can’t just make wholesale changes to the way they play.  For better or for worse, this team is what it is.  Pop has done a masterful job in finding a system that maximizes those strengths, and diverting from that will just completely deep-six any shot at winning this series.  The most Pop can do is shorten the bench to those who are producing, and pray it’s enough.

    Here’s hoping they can get it done in OKC.  I doubt it, though.  (Sorry for the negativity, guys.  I’ve just been so disappointed the last couple of days about all this.  It sucks.)

  • Jimbo

    This team and its coach are exactly the same as they were all season.  It’s not a huge mystery- they’re up against a more talented team.  Be thankful this team is in a spot where 2 wins gets it to the 
    Finals.

  • Este

    If guys are struggling you have to figure out ways to help them get going. Maybe put the ball in Green’s hand and let him run pick and roll like he did when he was filling in for Ginobili earlier this season. It’s obvious he has lost confidence in his shot so don’t just camp him out in the corner and have him jack up threes. Put him in pick and roll and at the very least you make Westbrook have to work on D.

  • Tyler

    Yeah, Pop told him to “let it fly” shortly after Manu’s shot went out of bounds….

  • Hobson13

    The series really turned in game 3 and the Spurs have yet to find a good rythm.  At this point, OKC’s athletic ability and length have gummed up the Spurs offensive machine and OKC seems to have made all the smart plays in the final minutes of games 4 and 5.  It will almost take a miracle for the Spurs to win the series at this point.

  • Titletown99030507d

    No your wrong  open your eyes this is not the same team that put on a clinic in game two and Pop is getting out coached. If it was they’d be waiting for the heat and celtics to finish.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Add the fact that Timmy takes to long to start hitting his shots just like in games 3,4, and 5 that has to be on the everybody’s mind. Pressure, pressure, pressure. They’ve been on a roll for so long because of the safety net Timmy provides but now that Timmy has been taking to long to get his shots falling it’s it affected the rest of the body (the guys).

  • Titletown99030507d

    Danny Green has lost every bit of confidence (and his stock) that he had since he won his starting role. He is lost. That is a big factor. Add Neal to the mix. Bad ball handler and his shots aren’t going down like they used to. Hell everybody’s shots has left them. What a time to lose your shot. I’ll pass on game 6. A rude ending to a Cinderella story.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Manu is the only one with intensity, heart, and balls on this team. Everybody on the team and the coach with the exception of Manu need to change their underwear and get to work.

  • Lvmainman

    How can the bench produce, when they don’t get a chance to play?

    Bonner got 1 minute, Green got 4 minutes. How can they produce with kind of playing time?

    Everyone knows that role players play better at home. If the role players don’t get to play, how can they produce?

    Pop panicked in my opinion. Give Green his 5 minutes to start the game, give Bonner a 3 minute stretch on Fisher/Cook/Sefolosha. Let them have an opportunity. Don’t wear out Ginobili with 38 minutes, he’s only good for 30 to 32 minutes.

  • Irontalon

    From what I’ve watched, the issue is the switch. With those switches the Thunder keep pushing the Ballhandler back and force a reset instead of a second screen. Bringing in multiple guys to set picks would just get us out of position offensively. Quite frankly the thunder have the athletes with Durant and Ibaka to really neutralize any switch advantage save for a 1 on 5 switch with Duncan in the block on a Westbrook or Sefalosha. Unfortunately TD can’t produce enough against the help D that then comes to make that a clear advantage.

    We simply keep running out of shot clock. We try but we can’t get a good look and often are forced to take a less than ideal shot. The ONLY thing that will get it done is perfect decision making and split second timing with the passes. That’s on the players, not pop.

  • Irontalon

    Well there’s the problem: the role players have NOT delivered save for Jax and Leonard (mostly). Our offense revolves around the role players hitting their shots. At this point most are too scared to even take that shot. Once that happens the stars need to figure out the next best thing, and while its good, its not getting it done against the thunder. We really need to ride the guys who show up to play hard and hope they can get it done on the road.

    You can’t coach effort and a killer instinct. That’s on the players

  • Tyler

    “Manu is the only one with intensity, heart, and balls on this team.”

    That’s ridiculous.

    The effort was there (did you see TP hound Westbrook all over the court to start the 2nd half?). It was the execution that was lacking. 

  • Tyler

    Let the finger pointing begin….it has to be someone’s fault right?

  • JT

    TP hounded Westbrook for 3 minutes in the 4rth, not the entire second half.

  • JT

    Spurs are soft, this is whats happening, we played good defense for 3 minutes in the 4rth quarter last game, the rest was garbage. Tony isn’t the MVP, he has played horrible, more turnovers than assists and basically flopping all over the floor. Danny / Splitter / Neal can’t shoot worth a damn. I can’t believe we are one game from basically getting swept. Just horrible offense. Timmy has disappeared this series, seems only Many showed up to play. This team relied too much on Tony and as he goes so does the team. 

    Some major movement will happen on this team if they don’t win.

  • Jimbo

    You are delusional.  The Thunder have one of the very best low-post defenders in the game, a guy who is an absolute eraser from the weak side, an excellent pick and roll player/6th man, an explosive point guard with an improved pullup jumper, and a guy who is maybe the second best player in the game and can get a quality shot an.  Oh, and they have a guard who is pretty damn good defensively.  Their overall team athleticism is off the charts.  The Spurs have some good players and a lot of excellent role players, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that that means they are more talented than the Thunder.  The only question was whether the Thunder’s youth would hinder them.  You should be down on your knees singing Pop’s and the players’ praises for landing the #1 seed and winning 20 freaking games in a row.  Teams get exposed in the playoffs, and the Spurs have plenty of weaknesses.  They were spared tough matchups (Memphis and LAL) in the first two rounds.  The fact that they cover their weaknesses very well shouldn’t create the perception that they are the 1996 Bulls.  And just because the Spurs handled the Thunder in the first two games does not mean that they are the better team.  It means  that they overachieved.  Think of it this way: if Brooks were a better coach the Thunder might have ended the series already.  If you gave Pop the roster of OKC and Brooks the roster of SA, do you really think SA would win a best of 7 series?  

  • Jimbo

    (“quality shot anytime,” if that wasn’t clear.)

  • Jimbo

    No kidding.  Can people just acknowledge that OKC is a really good team in its own right?  They’re young, but they’ve been together for a few years, and they ooze talent.  

  • Tyler

    I’m pretty sure he started picking up full court at the start of the 2nd half.

    Regardless, effort wasn’t what lost the game. It was execution and shot making.

  • deeds130

     I agree… there is no doubt that SA has overachieved this season. Or that we had favorable matchups in the first 2 rounds. Almost everyone was looking past OKC becuase of our past success against them, but they have grown since we played them earlier in the year, and throughout this season and postseason. They are not only an extremely talented bunch, they are  extremely confident. They believe. They are winners. If they don’t make it past us this year, they are the team to beat in the West next year.  SA on the other hand, just like many of us have been saying for years, need an influx of talent. KL is a start. Boris and Jax and Green are useful… but none of that can compare to having young lottery picks hitting their prime.

    I want the Spurs to take it to 7 games, where anything is possible. I truly believe that we can steal one on the road. It would set up a legendary battle, win or lose, and possibly give us fans something more to feel proud about in a well-played 7th game. It ain’t over. Everybody needs to earn their status in these next 2 games, including Pop. But, that said, this Thunder team is poised to sit atop the West for the coming era… look at who they defeated this year on the road to the WCF, the last 3 NBA champions. Now let’s see the Spurs step up to the challenge! No fear!

    Go Spurs, Go!

  • Titletown99030507d

    And that wasnt good enough. No excuse for loosing 3 straight when they previously put a clinic on the same team. Period!

  • Titletown99030507d

    Or can we acknowledge they forgot how to play basketball in games 3,4, & 5. I expect them to win games 6 & 7.

  • Wookiejesus

     Even if you think this might be Pop’s fault… whats your plan? Fire him and get someone better… thats a turrible plan

  • Titletown99030507d

    Im sure if we lose this series Pop will put his tail between his legs, take his trophies, accolades, and retire because Timmy isnt going to be any better not next year or the year after. The window will be shut for a fifth for sure if we loose this series.

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  • Irontalon

    Then what? 4 years from now when we are doing our best Minnesota T wolves impression and finishing in 11th place and hearking back to the days when we were relevant, will you be saying. “Man, at least we got rid of popvich, god what a crappy coach. I was so tired of him getting guys to ridiculously overachieve”

  • Irontalon

    You seem to be forgetting Cap’n Jack my friend. He hasn’t dissapointed yet.

  • Tyler

    I have to agree. The Thunder’s ceiling as a team is unquestionably higher than the Spurs. They have a ton of talent, length, and athleticism the Spurs can’t match.

    Before the series, however, I thought the Spurs execution would be superior to the young Thunder’s. And through the first two games, that was true. The last 3 games though, the Thunder have executed on par or with greater efficiency than the Spurs.

  • Jimbo

    If the Spurs don’t sweep an elite opponent, that means they forgot how to play basketball.  I remember my 6th grade team once opened the second half of a tight game by ppressing full court.  We went on a huge run and won the game decisively, something like 70-40.  SO WHY ISN’T POP PRESSING?!?!?!?!

    just messin’ with you :)  And I haven’t give up hope either.  I think the Spurs are clearly less talented but they are a team in the true sense of the word, and they have some crafty vets.  They can still win this series with a little luck. 

  • TD BestEVER

     POP played too much small ball last night – That plus Parker melting down, and POP bad last shot play with Manu are what eventually killed us.  Let me explain……….

    Small ball works when your guards are shooting/playing well and you can create mismatches on the Offensive end.  We don’t have 4 smalls playing well so why in the hell would POP go for so long with that lineup.   Especially when Manu wasn’t in the game we had nothing going for us.   you can’t run small ball when Neal, Green, and TP are struggling to score.  it just doesn’t work. 

    TP needs to shoot well in game 6 – not 5 of 14, needs to take care of the ball – no 5 TO in the game and get more than 4 assists

    POP called the wrong play last night – Should have just gave it to Manu at the top of the keu

  • STIJL

    OKC is one Bad A** team. Spurs are one Old A** team with less competent role players than OKC right now.  I’m not surprised this has happened.  It just sucks a big one that it has.  20 in a row doesn’t mean squat if they don’t go to the finals.

    Bottomline…Spurs role/bench players have got to step up and produce otherwise…same bat time same bat channel…OKC in six.  And that’s on the players…not the coach.  Though I would like to see a lineup of Parker, Ginobili, Jack, Leonard and Duncan just to see how that would work.

  • Tyler

    Yeah, he can take his 1246 wins, .680 winning %, two coach of the year awards and four championship trophies and get the hell out. Good riddance. 

  • Jimbo

    The Spurs during the Duncan years have been a machine, a marvel to the rest of the sports world.  The fact that they are still getting #1 seeds this late into Duncan’s career even though they never draft high and free agents don’t like San Antonio is nothing short of amazing.  Careful what you wish for.  Most teams- coaches and management included-are inept by comparison other than a few flash in the pan years.  

  • Tyler

    Just saw you all at 48MoH sponsor Pop’s page at Basketball Reference….awesome.

  • STIJL

     Also…this series as some others in the past…serve proof that the playoffs should be ceded 1 through sixteen regardless of conference affiliation.

    We are probably watching the two best teams in the league playing each other right now.  So…consider this your finals match up.

    Go Spurs Go!!!

  • STIJL

     Yep.  Watching OKC right now reminds me of watching the younger Spurs of championship days of old.  They just seem to not be denied of their destiny.  And as Stephen A. Smith pointed out…the last two games is the first time I’ve seen the Spurs “look” old on the court this season.  That’s a testament to how good this OKC team is this year.  Ibaca and Perkins playing solid post D AND making shots.  A nobody player in Cook coming in and knocking down timely 3’s.  The rest of their team not folding when one of their big three isn’t playing well.  You name it…it’s all reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs 5 years removed.

  • Len

    10-13 years removed

  • Titletown99030507d

    Then what? At least Buford will know what do with his consecutive number1 picks. Doh!

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yeah maybe half of all that you mentioned can be given to Bob Hill. Doh!

  • Spinetrine38

    I’ve been waiting all series, and finally, finally…the refs quit buying into Parker’s and flopping for the majority of a whole game.  They missed one on a phantom “elbow” they called on Westbrook when his defender gave him a lapdance upon receiving the ball.  If you can’t turn without your shoulder knocking over you’re defender, its not a foul.

    Best moment of the game…Parker gets pick-pocketed by Harden…slow motion replay shows him snap his head around to see James running down the floor with the ball, which was followed by Tony Pussy…i mean Parker, flailing his arms as he tumbles to the ground, rolling on his back and holding his hand.

    Second best moment of the game…Parker drives to the hoop putting his shoulder and head down into the laterally sliding defender only to lose his footing, fall to the ground, and throw the ball out of bounds. Incredibly obvious flop #2 well avoided by the refs…good no call.

    Third best moment of the game, Harden’s dagger 3. That’s right, that’s the third best moment.  Seeing Tony having his opera acts ignored by the refs was simply more exciting and enjoyable.  At some point in time you need to just play basketball, make better plays than your opponent to win.  Quit trying to flail and flop your way to a victory.  Just play the game.

    ** Honorable mention #1 goes to Capt’n Jack, who was sent flying by a little Durant shoulder shrug with no call.  He’s the best scorer in the NBA, but do your best.  Props to Kawhi, he plays some intense D and never backs down when he’s checking KD.  It’s just disgusting that your gameplan is to try and flop your way into getting a turnover like that.  Try playing D and stopping a team the way basketball should be played.

    ** Honorable mention #2 goes to Manu, who caught Serge early by slamming on his breaks while driving down the freeway.  I hate that mentality, he saw Serge start to sprint back on D and since he was behind Manu, he put on the breaks and stepped back into him to force rear-end collision.  If you get the ball in transition, go dunk on someone…hell, euro step the hell outta that lane and make fools of pump-fake buying, shot blocking wannabes.  Don’t turn around and look for a cheap way to get a player in foul trouble.  Sweet revenge was seeing that early lead, built in part by getting Serge to the benched 45 seconds in, reversed to a 5 point Thunder lead by the end of the 1st.

    All in all, no one enjoys it. You don’t get into ESPN’s top 10 for it (although you might make a sportsnation 3 tear’s appearance). You’re making yourself easy to hate San Antonio.  You’re the old man at the gym that isn’t willing to admit he’s lost a few steps while easily admitting rogaine doesn’t work like he through it would.  So you slide on that hairline covering headband, do your best to cheapshot your way to pick-up game victories, instead of just admitting that your sound coaching and gameplanning (unbelievable ball movement, selfless team play, pace, and versitility), can, and will be beaten by athleticism and youth. Eventually everyone gets sick of you calling your own fouls and hoping to win on handouts.  Play the game right, if you get beat, you get beat.  At least you didn’t try and con your way to an advantage.