I usually do my scouting reports prior to each game and look at areas where the San Antonio Spurs need improvement and areas where they need to continue to exploit mismatches against their opponents.
But after Monday’s “heartbreaking” (said by Tim Duncan) loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, I think this series has been analyzed to death on my end and our team here at Project Spurs.
Through the three straight losses, it’s always the same story: Not enough fire from Tony Parker (credit the Thunder defense), too many turnovers, a disappearing bench that was regarded as the best in the NBA, and the woeful second quarters.
The Thunder have been able to defeat the Spurs in any kind of format through these last three games. In game three, the Spurs turned the ball over 21 times, and they lost. In game four, the Spurs didn’t turn the ball over as much, but still played an awful second quarter, which the result was another loss. In game five, at home mind you, the Spurs once again lost control of the ball for another 21 turnovers, Russell Westbrook took a bunch of shots like the Spurs wanted him to do, and they still lost.
I’m not sure if Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is going to show much film from game five. It’s apparent the Spurs know their biggest enemy right now is themselves. They’ve talked about not playing a full 48-minutes in the locker room; they’ve talked about not playing carefully with their turnover problem. A veteran team like the Spurs know when to put a loss on themselves, it’s been like that for three straight games now.
“Championship Teams Win on The Road” – Gregg Popovich
After game five, I wanted to hear and try to understand the team perspective of the Spurs after the emotional loss. Let’s start with coach Popovich.
“Well, the confidence level stays high. We’re one of four teams out of 30. We’re here for a reason, and I’ll be on them, and I’m very sure they’ll come out ready to go. You know, championship teams win on the road, and Oklahoma City just did that. So they’ve proven they’re a championship caliber team.”
Popovich already set the bar for how this team will be regarded when or if their season ends. If they can’t pull out a must win on the road, then even with the 20-game winning streak and all the superb season play, were they really that good?
“We have to go do that,” continued Popovich, “If we can’t win on Wednesday, we’re not a championship caliber team. It’s as simple as that. You look at anybody who’s won championships, and they’ve won on the road as the process goes along. It’s what you do. And they just did it. So we need to do the same thing to hold serve.”
Never has there been more pressure on number nine
Before game five, I compared Tony Parker to Spiderman. In my piece, I wrote about how Parker has been given the most responsibility this season of the Spurs finally becoming “his” team. He’s now the captain behind the ship, players look at his guidance and leadership as way to success. If Parker’s having inconsistent games like in game five, then will he ever be ready to fully be the leader of the silver and black?
I know the Thunder have done a fantastic job trying to take him out of the series, but as our own Trevor Zickgraf wrote, Parker is almost submitting to what the Thunder defense is doing to him. It’s similar to how he played below his ability in last year’s playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies where Mike Conley was the one being regarded as the Parker stopper.
Here’s what Parker had to say about game five, he too mentioned winning on the road as something championship teams MUST do.
“You have to win on the road if you want to win a championship. We have a great challenge in front of us and it is going to be hard but I know we have a good team that can do it.”
Game six could truly be a pivotal game in Parker’s career. Is he truly the leader of the franchise today and is he ready to be regarded as a true “MVP” candidate? He can’t have another inconsistent game when his team needs him the most and the season on the line. There is no other excuse, Parker must shine tonight. Let’ say Parker has another sub-par game and the Spurs lose. Is Parker’s name being mentioned once again in trade rumors this offseason? This is his main chance to lead the team and if he doesn’t shine or lay it all on the line, do the Spurs need to start looking for that superstar leader of their future?
Never has there been more pressure on number nine than tonight.
“I’m not submitting to nothing.” – Stephen Jackson
If there’s one player who gives the Spurs and their fans hope that the Spurs will go all-in tonight, it’s Jackson. There’s a reason the Spurs were glad to have acquired him at the trade deadline for Richard Jefferson. Jackson doesn’t have the word “quit” in his vocabulary.
As I walked into the Spurs’ locker room after game five, the first player to talk with us (the media) was Jackson. “I’m not submitting to nothing,” Jackson said proudly. He was as strong and eager as ever; he is the only guy who I’ve seen when the Spurs played in Oklahoma City continue to not let the emotion or momentum of the game deter him. Jackson is the emotional leader the Spurs so desperately needed last year, and finally have this year.
“In a nut shell, we have to go win one on the road,” said Jackson, “There’s not really nothing else to say. We just have to get one on the road. They (Thunder) played like a championship team and won one on the road and we have to return the favor point blank.”
Jackson said these words with such conviction. He is not one who will just lay down and hand the series to the Thunder, he’s going to give it his all and he’ll be in his teammates ears to make sure they don’t begin to get mentally weak tonight.
“It’s win or go home.” – Manu Ginobili
“Do we have another choice? It’s not that we have a Game 8 or 9 to recover, so it’s either win or go home. So we have to. It’s our job. So nobody is going to feel sorry about ourselves, we’ve just got to go compete. We know it’s hard to beat them there, but it’s what we have to do. We’ve got to step up and play the best game of the season.”
One of the last reasons the Spurs and Spurs fans should feel confident returning to San Antonio is a possibility, number 20 is going to lay it all on the line, and he, along with Jackson will put this games on their backs if they have to.
Ginobili is the most fearless player on the Spurs’ roster at attacking the basket, taking a wild shot, throwing a ridiculous pass threw someone’s legs, or willing to make a block or steal that could swing a game. Ginobili is one of the Spurs’ road warriors, and they’re going to need him tonight to possibly carry the scoring load once again should Parker struggle or play inconsistently.
I’m not sure if Ginobili will start or come off the bench, but if we learned anything in game five, it’s that he’s going to be playing a ton of minutes. If the Spurs as a team can stay successful when Ginobili goes to the bench for break, they’ll have a good shot at winning. But if they struggle like they did in game five anytime he walked off the floor, a six game series might be all she wrote for the Spurs.
As Ginobili said, it’s win or go home time for the Spurs. They’re all healthy at the same time, which has been rare through their stretch of playing together. Ginobili and Duncan will be a year older next year, will this team miss the opportunity at a title because of another bad series, or will they be able to give it their all and try to force a game seven?
As Kevin Durant said after game five on the Spurs, “We can’t get too high, this team is not going to lay down.”