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Playoff Journal - June 7

   by Larry Ness - 06/07/2012

I noted in my May 21 journal after the Spurs eliminated the Clippers, that San Antonio had become just the fourth team to sweep its way through the first two rounds of the postseason under the current NBA playoff format (since 1st round series were expanded to seven games in 2003). However, historical ‘danger’ was lurking, as each of the previous three teams to do so (the 2005 Heat, the 2009 Cavs and the 2010 Magic) had all lost in their respective conference finals, failing to even advance to the NBA Finals. Well (paraphrasing Ronald Reagan), the Spurs suffered a similar fate this season, as the Thunder made a spectacular come back in eliminating the Spurs last night, winning Game 6 by the score of 107-99.

The Spurs opened the Western Conference finals by winning the first two games at home, extending their winning streak to 20 consecutive games (had also won 34 of 37 since a March 9 loss to the Clippers) However, San Antonio’s Game 5 home loss marked the first time the Spurs had lost three in a row all season and entering last night’s game, had remained unbeaten for 48 days before arriving in Oklahoma City for Game 3, before losing three games in just FIVE days. Make that FOUR losses in seven days after last night’s Game 6 loss.

San Antonio sure started strong last night, leading after one quarter, 34-20. The Spurs’ lead peaked at 18 points in the second quarter and San Antonio led at the half by 15 points (63-48). Tony Parker scored or assisted on San Antonio’s first points of the game and had 21 points and 10 assists at the half. The Thunder looked lethargic in the first half, committing eight turnovers against only six assists while allowing San Antonio to shoot 9-of-15 on three-pointers. However, the Thunder outscored the Spurs 59-36 in the second half, as Durant scored 34 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, playing all 48 minutes of regulation for the first time all season. Russell Westbrook added 25-8-5 and Harden 16-5-4 off the bench. This OKC trio, as it has so often this season, combined for 70 percent of the team’s points (75 of 107).

Parker finished with 29 points and 12 assists for the Spurs, Duncan added 25 & 14 and Jackson was HUGE off the bench, with 23. However, with Ginobili in the starting lineup for the second straight game (he had only 10 points), the San Antonio bench offered just seven points (all from Gary Neal) outside of Jackson. In the end, San Antonio had no answers defensively for the Thunder, who scored 111 points (in a Game 2 loss) and then 102, 109, 108 and 107 in winning four straight games. The Spurs entered the series allowing just 88.8 PPG in sweeping the Jazz and Clippers, but Durant and the OKC offense was a “horse of a different color.” The Thunder made 36-of-72 FGs last night (50.0%), 10-of-18 threes (55.6%) and the regular season's top free-throw shooting team made 25-of-31 (80.6%).

OKC will await the winner of the East and host Game 1 of the NBA finals on Tuesday, June 12. Home teams are now 51-26 (43-33-1 ATS) in the postseason (9-2 SU and 7-4 ATS in the conference finals). SIX straight games have gone over and it’s now pretty close after 77 games, with 38 overs and 39 unders. Those following the Zig Zag theory are 1-5 since Friday, 3-6 in the conference finals and 31-31-1 ATS this postseason (minus-3.1 net games). Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals is set for 8:30 ET on ESPN from Boston, with Miami favored by two points (total is 179 1/2).

LBJ was hoping his success against the Celtics would change when he “took his talents to South Beach” but that hasn’t been the case. He certainly saw his fair share of disappointment in Boston when he was with the Cavs but things have only gotten worse since he joined Miami, as the Heat have lost SEVEN of eight on Boston’s famed parquet floor. The Heat won the first two games of this series but have now lost THREE in a row, including Game 5 at home. Boston had scored 53 points in the first half of Game 2, 55 points in Game 3 and a whopping 61 points in Game 5, so when the Heat led 42-20 at the half (with Bosh getting some minutes and looking fairly good), Miami was in decent shape.

However, the Celtics scored 54 points in the second half and won, 94-90. The Celtics won despite starting guards Allen and Rondo shooting a combined 5-of-24 (20.8 percent) from the floor. I will note that Rondo added 13 assists and now has 14 double digit assist games in 17 postseason contests (was suspended for Game 2 of the Atlanta series). KG had another double-double with 26 & 11 (13 in 18 playoff games) and Pierce 19. Pietrus chipped in 13 off the bench, which was huge, as Boston’s other three reserves accounted for six points. Miami sure knows what it’s like to not get much help from its complementary players. LBJ had 30 &13 and Wade 27 & 6 in Game 5 but the other three starters (Battier, Chalmers and Haslem) combined to shoot 6-of-16 with 17 points. Bosh got 14 minutes off the bench (had 9 & 7) but the other three reserves made just 2-of-11 FGs. LBJ looked ‘gassed’ by the 4th quarter and after scoring seven points in the first 4:22 of the game, Wade didn't score again in the first half. He now has just 29 points in five, first halves against Boston in this series (5.8 points per on 27% shooting).

Miami finished SEVEN games better than the Celtics in the lockout-shortened regular season to earn home-court advantage, but then gave it back on Tuesday night. The ‘noose’ is tightening on the Heat, who must now avoid a FOURTH straight loss to the Celtics, which would result in a SECOND straight year of a failed promise from the trio of James, Wade and Bosh. A Miami win only gets them back to Miami for a Game 7 but the Celtics want NO part of that. "We have one home game left, and that's it in this series," coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday. "We have to understand that, and we have to come with that sense of urgency. Our guys understand that, and I think so does Miami." The Celtics also know that avoiding a Game 7 will allow them to rest their thirtysomethings like Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. However, can you trust Miami to turn it around? That sets the stage.

Good luck...Larry

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