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Playoff Journal, May 30

   by Larry Ness - 05/30/2014

San Antonio's Tim Duncan put it best, "This is the craziest series I've ever been involved in." The Spurs connected on 57.5 percent in Game 1 and 50.0 percent in Game 2, averaging 117.0 PPG at home to take a 2-0 lead in the series. However, Serge Ibaka's unexpected return when the series shifted to Oklahoma City made a HUGE impact.

Oklahoma City looked like a new team, playing with renewed confidence and energy, OKC's youngsters rolled past their veteran counterparts in Games 3 and 4 to tie the series at two-all. The Thunder appeared to have things figured out, as OKC played a more physical defensive style in Games 3 and 4 plus used its length and athletic ability to disrupt the Spurs' normally precise offense.

That is until the Spurs got to return home last night. The first quarter ended 32-all but San Antonio opened a 10-point lead by halftime. The Spurs then doubled that advantage, taking a 20-point lead into the 4th quarter, before extending the lead even further in an eventual 117-89 victory. San Antonio was back to playing its game, shooting 51.3 percent as a team, including a blistering 13 of 26 on threes.

The Spurs started Matt Bonner in place of Tiago Splitter to draw Ibaka out of the paint and it worked early. It also helped defensively, as Ibaka attacked Bonner but missed his first FIVE shots on a series of running hooks. Duncan also was able to help defensively, rolling over to block a layup attempt by Ibaka. Duncan and Ginobili both played poorly in Game 4 but each one responded with excellent Game 5 efforts. Duncan had 22 and 12, while Ginobili made 7 of 9 shots for 19 points (also added four rebounds and six assists). That DEEP San Antonio bench won "the battle of the reserves," 55-to-26!

Ibaka was totally neutralized (six points and two rebounds in 27 minutes), while Durant added a 'quiet' 25 and Westbrook, off that 40-point game, scored a modest 21. The Thunder scored only 34 points in the second half, after scoring 32 points alone, in the first quarter.

The Spurs have won SEVEN straight home games by at least 15 points, dating back to Game 7 of the first round against Dallas. That is the longest such streak in NBA playoff history! The Thunder may have erased a 2-0 best-of-seven series deficit by tying the series 2-2 but they are now down 3-2 and must win Game 6 at home and then Game 7 at San Antonio, to capture the series. NBA playoff history tells us that teams down 0-2 which "get even" at two-all, have gone on to win just 15 of 70 previous series (that's just 21.4%).

Last night marked another win and cover by the home team here in the conference finals. That makes it 9-1 SU and ATS, after home teams just barely won 50 percent of their games SU the first two rounds (38-34 or .528). Home teams were a woeful 27-43-3 ATS (that's 39.1%!) those first two rounds but have fought back to stand 47-35 (.573) for the postseason to-date, going 36-43-3 ATS (45.6% or minus-11.3 net games)

Over players have had the best of it so far this postseason but under bettors have now won THREE nights in a row, staying under by one point, a half-point and one point, respectively! Still, the tally since the start of the 2014 playoffs is 46 overs and 36 unders, a 56.1% edge favoring over bettors. "Zig-Zaggers" won with the Spurs last night and remain a "small winner" since the beginning, at 36-29-3 ATS (plus-4.1 net games).

We are back in South Beach for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, as the Pacers look to take Step No. 2 in an attempt to accomplish the improbable, come back from a 3-1 deficit and win a best-of-seven series. There have been 222 teams in NBA history to have fallen behind 3-1 in a best-of-seven series but just EIGHT of those teams (a 'whopping' 3.6%) have come back to win.

Making it even tougher on Indiana is the fact that the Pacers will need to make their 3-1 comeback vs the two-time defending champs, looking to join the Celtics and Lakers by reaching a FOURTH straight NBA Finals. The Pacers realize that this journey seems like "a bridge too far" but their Game 5 win broke some new ground
(the Heat had been a PERFECT 7-0 in Game 5s when holding a 3-1 lead in the LBJ/Wade/Bosh era, which began in 2011), so maybe the Pacers are "on to something?"

Then again, maybe they aren't. Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra almost never holds a practice the day after a road game, especially when the team plane lands around 3:30 a.m. However, Spoelstra deviated from the norm on the day before Game 6 of this East title series, not for any one on-court issue but rather so the two-time defending NBA champions could relieve some frustration. "Clear heads ... and to connect," Spoelstra said. "We didn't want to leave it all to tomorrow. There were some things we wanted to go over, and for time's sake, splitting it up was a little bit more efficient."

Incredibly but I guess predictably these days, the talk on the off day wasn't so much about Paul George scoring 37 points to lead his team to a season-saving win, or even how LBJ was held to seven points (a career playoff-low) on a night that he was rendered silent for long stretches because of foul trouble. Rather, the buzz was almost entirely about Stephenson, who has simultaneously become a Heat frustration and Internet sensation.

Images of his already-infamous ear-blowing stunt were widely distributed on social media moments after it occurred in Game 5 and he didn't back down Thursday when asked about his desire to pester the Heat. "Just playing ball, man, having fun and enjoying the moment," Stephenson said. Spoelstra didn't react when Stephenson, who said James was showing signs of "weakness" earlier in the series, crashed the Heat huddle. Much like his players, Spoelstra didn't bite when asked about the excitable Pacer guard's attempts to throw Miami off its game.

ESPN carries tonight's game at 8:30 ET, with the Heat favored by 7 1/2 points (total is 182 1/2).

Good luck...Larry

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