With both conference final series tied 2-2, the first major shake-up in both series occurred in Game 5 where each road team, Oklahoma City and Boston, won to take a 3-2 lead heading back home. In this article, I will talk about how each road team was able to win Game 5 and who will win in Game 6.
Let’s start with the Thunder-Spurs series, whose Game 6 will be played tonight in Oklahoma City. I was not surprised with the outcome in Game 5 as I predicted the Thunder to win that game. After OKC went down in the series 2-0, they stormed back by evening the series at 2 by winning two home games. The question for them was if they would be able to win in San Antonio, and they proved that they could in Game 5. They didn’t back away from the pressure and played well in the fourth quarter. However, they did blow a lead in this game. The Thunder were up big in the first half but allowed the Spurs to close the lead to 8 points heading into halftime, leading many to believe that the Spurs would make a run in the second half. The Spurs did make a run, led by Manu Ginobili, who finished with 34 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds. You couldn’t have asked for anything more from him. However, the Thunder, led by Kevin Durant, did not let San Antonio complete the comeback and held on to win by 5 points.
I believe there were three key reasons why the Thunder won this game. First has to be Russell Westbrook. Although he did not have his best game, he showed up and contributed, which he had not really done at all in this series. He finished with 23 points and 12 assists and was a major part of the offense. Another big player for OKC was James Harden who scored 20 points including the most important shot of the series in the closing seconds to put San Antonio away. The great thing about Oklahoma is that they have three guys who you can trust to take and make big shots. In contrast, Miami has 0 right now, and San Antonio really only has Ginobili. Tony Parker has not taken many shots down the stretch. The last reason why Oklahoma City won was the lack of production from Spurs role players. In previous games, either Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, or Danny Green were big contributors. In this game, only 4 Spurs scored in double figures. They need a more balanced effort if they want to come back and win this series.
So who will win Game 6 and this series? I’ve said all along that OKC will win in 6 and I am sticking with that. After a 20-game win streak, the Spurs now have a 3-game losing streak, and it cannot come at a worse time. On top of that, the Thunder are playing at home, where they have not lost yet in the playoffs this year. However, if the Spurs somehow can win this game tonight, I don’t see the Thunder winning again in San Antonio in Game 7. But I will talk more about that hypothetical situation if it becomes a reality.
Moving on to the Boston-Miami series where Boston went down to South Beach and stunned the Heat last night. This was as shocking an outcome as there has been in the playoffs and I am stunned that Miami lost at home to a team as old as Boston. The Celtics are now only one game away from the NBA finals despite nearly trading half their roster at the trade deadline. In fact, there were rumors that Paul Pierce was going to be traded to the Nets. That is laughable now. Imagine if Danny Ainge had decided to do that trade and broke up this Celtics roster. It would have changed the course of this NBA season more than any other trade could have. If this had happened, the Knicks probably would have won the Atlantic Division and maybe could be in the conference finals right now. Speaking of the Nets, the Celtics remind me of them in one way. The Nets had a strange ability last year to “hang around” with many good teams. They were usually not blown out against teams like Miami, Chicago, or Oklahoma City. They always went down early and were trailing by around 10 points the entire game. The difference is that, in the fourth quarter, Boston is able to come back from that deficit, while the Nets would just lose by 10 points. Boston’s strategy is a very good one. They don’t need to have the lead for the whole game. They just want to be “hanging around” in the fourth quarter because they know that Miami is going to blow their lead. It is a risky strategy, but it has worked out so far.
Now let’s talk a bit about Miami and their loss in this game. One big reason I thought Miami should be able to win was the return of Chris Bosh. Even though he was not in the starting lineup, he proved to be effective on the offensive side at least, and he brought a lot of energy to this roster who has been playing a little bored and slow recently. Even though Bosh is not 100%, how can anybody explain coach Erik Spoelstra’s decision to leave Bosh out of the game for the entire fourth quarter? Many people have often said that Spoelstra is not the right coach for this Miami team and I have never believed them. The way I see it, this team is talented enough and doesn’t even need a coach to win games. Heck, this team could probably get home-court in the first round if I was their coach. But my opinion on Spoelstra has changed from one of acceptance to one of “this guy has got to go”. His decision to leave Bosh out of the game in the entire fourth quarter can cost Miami this series, and if it does, it should cost Spoelstra his job. After the game, Bosh said that he could have played and that it was Spoelstra’s decision to leave him out. That is all I need to hear. Also, what’s up with the lack of hustle from the Heat in the fourth quarter? One play that sticks out is after a made basket, the Heat got back on defense but then just stood there and did not pick up anybody. Kevin Garnett was getting ready to get a pass to shoot a jumper, but when he saw absolutely no defenders in the paint, he strolled right in and got an and-1 dunk. Spoelstra has to be blamed for this as it is the coach’s fault if a team is not trying. As far as I am concerned, Spoelstra is the reason Miami lost this game.
Even though I am not a Miami Heat fan by any means, throughout these playoffs I have said that they are the best team without question and that they will win the championship. I even said that I thought they would sweep the entire eastern conference playoffs and wouldn’t lose a game until the finals. Those kinds of predictions end now. This team is not mentally tough and they don’t have the attitude of a championship team. When they lost game 4 to the Knicks, they showed this. When they lost twice to Indiana, they showed this. But before, they have been able to get away with it because those teams simply did not have enough talent to keep up. Despite Boston’s age, they have talent and toughness, and I think that will be enough to beat Miami. I expect Boston to close this series out at home in Game 6, and I pick them to win Game 7 even if Miami is able win on the road. It’s going to be yet another long offseason for the Miami Heat.
What are your predictions for the conference finals?