Well, at least the Spurs won't have to worry about guarding James Harden when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the deadlocked Western Conference finals Thursday night.
After having to contend with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in two decisive losses to the Thunder in Oklahoma City and squandering a 2-0 lead in the series, the Spurs can take consolation in knowing Harden plays for the Houston Rockets now.
Harden scored 20 points and hit a step-back 3-pointer with 28.8 seconds left that proved to be the difference in OKC's 108-103 victory over the Spurs in Game 5 of the 2012 conference finals.
The Thunder took a 3-2 lead in the series with the victory and beat the Silver and Black again two nights later, earning a berth in the NBA Finals with four consecutive wins after losing the first two games of the conference finals in San Antonio.
The Spurs and Thunder find themselves in a stalemate again after four games, with each team having held serve at home.
So the Western Conference finals have come down to a best-of-three series, with two games scheduled in San Antonio. That is, if a seventh game is necessary.
Everybody s going to talk about that, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after Thursday morning s shootaround. They have for years and always will. I don t think anybody would give up home court. If you re given a choice, you say, OK, I ll take home court.
Teams that win championships win on the road. That s for sure. You can look wherever you want and along the way on that journey, whoever winds up being the champion will have won on the road here and there.
Spurs will win Game 5 and take series in seven
It says here that the Spurs-Thunder series will go seven games.
The Spurs will dig deep in Game 5 and pull out a victory, but they won t win Game 6 in OKC on Saturday, even if the law of averages may favor them. The Silver and Black have lost their last nine games at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
If the tea leaves by my laptop and the spots on my tortilla at breakfast this morning don t betray me, the Spurs will win Game 7 at the AT&T Center on Monday night and move on to the Finals for the second consecutive season.
But if the Thunder win Game 5, they ll wrap up the series in six games, just as they did two years ago, winning four straight after falling behind 2-0.
OKC has to be brimming with confidence after winning the last two games. The Thunder won Game 3 by nine points and Game 4 by 13, but neither was that close.
With Ibaka in OKC nursing a strained calf, the Spurs rolled to 122-107 and 112-77 victories in the first two games at the AT&T Center. But the series and the Spurs haven t been the same since Ibaka, the Thunder s defensive anchor, returned in Game 3.
While Ibaka has lifted OKC on both ends of the floor, Westbrook and Durant, the league s MVP, have gotten back on track after being contained relatively speaking, that is in the first two games.
Westbrook was virtually unstoppable in the Thunder s 105-92 win in Game 4 Tuesday, finishing with 40 points, 10 assists and five steals. Westbrook hit 12 of 24 shots and Durant scored 31 points on 11-of-22 shooting.
Pop: 'They played like a desperate team, and we did not match that'
To say the Spurs struggled mightily in OKC would be an understatement. Looking tentative and intimidated by the younger, more athletic Thunder, they trailed by as many as 27 points in Game 4 and finished with 13 turnovers.
Popovich was asked if he was contemplating making any lineup changes for Game 5.
We ll consider a couple of tweaks here and there, just in the game plan, he said. I don t know exactly where that will be, but we saw a few things we think might warrant a little tweak here and there.
Then Popovich got to the heart of the Spurs problem.
There s the tactical part, the o s and the x s and what you might do, he said. In general, we ve got to play with the same determination that they did in Oklahoma City. They played like a desperate team, and we did not match that.
Yes, the Thunder are young, athletic and talented. But for whatever reason and, yes, I acknowledge how much better Ibaka makes OKC the Spurs have been out of sync since they set foot in OKC. And with the exception of the bench, particularly Cory Joseph, the guys in silver and black haven t played with any degree of fire.
Hey, Ibaka or no Ibaka, the Spurs have got to buck up, put on their big-boy pants and take the fight to the Thunder.
We played terrible both games, in every aspect of the game, offensively, defensively, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. They went to the line too much. We were not smart enough. I said it multiple times, we ve got to play close to perfection to beat them, especially over there. We were way too far from that, so we had no shot.
Watching film of Game 4 painful for Ginobili
By the way, Ginobili led the Spurs with 34 points in the Game 5 loss to OKC two years ago. Look for Ginobili, who scored only five points in 11 minutes in Game 4 after finishing with a team-high 23 points in Game 3, to be at his best Thursday night.
So what s happened to the Spurs team that is renowned in the basketball world for its precision and discipline on both ends of the floor?
If we always play the same opponent in the same conditions, I m pretty sure we d play the same every time, Ginobili said. But Oklahoma is doing different things. They force you to turn the ball over. Some of the times you just turn the ball over unnecessarily. Loose balls. You miss a couple of shots.
Things start to change in your head, in your team. Somebody gets in foul trouble. Every game is different. For sure, they re a tough team. They are athletic, they are strong and they play even better at home, so that s basketball.
The Spurs didn t practice Wednesday, but they watched the film of Game 4. Ginobili said he was embarrassed by what he saw.
You think that you re doing your best, that you re rotating (on defense) and you re always slow, and they were always more aggressive than us, Ginobili said. They got all the loose balls, the rebounds. Hey, it s painful, but it helps you learn, helps you understand all the multiple things we did wrong, and that we can do better.
And taking all that into consideration, we may even lose again playing a great game. But at least we end the game, look at each other in our faces and say, OK, we gave everything we had and we played smart and we played hard. They just beat us. That s where we ve got to get to the point where we play much harder and much smarter.
So what about the home-court advantage and the lift fans give the Spurs?
Of course, it always helps, Ginobili said. It s never definitive. I wish they could play for us, but they help us. They get us moving, but we ve got to get them moving, too, because it s reciprocal. We help them to get excited and they help us, so it s got to start with us, playing well, playing smart, playing strong.
Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Western Conference finals
(Series tied 2-2)
Game 1: Spurs 122, Thunder 105,May 19, San Antonio
Game 2: Spurs 112, Thunder 77, May 21, San Antonio
Game 3: Thunder 106, Spurs 97, Sunday, OKC
Game 4: Thunder 105, Spurs 92, Tuesday, OKC
Game 5: Thunder at Spurs, Thursday, 8 p.m.
Game 6: Spurs at Thunder, Saturday, May 31, 7:30 p.m.
Game 7, if necessary: Thunder at Spurs, Monday, June 2, 8 p.m.