Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs - Game Five

Thunder-Spurs Game 6: Spurs know what to do, but it may not matter


It’s not that the Spurs don’t know what they have to do to win — this is a smart, veteran team with the best coach in the land. Intellectually, they know what they need to do.

But there comes a point where athleticism trumps that plan, and for three games in a row now the Thunder have had that advantage. It’s not that simple — the Thunder also have executed well enough, got their role players to step up and used the long arms of Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka to disrupt what the Spurs are doing. But the more athletic team is winning this series because of their advantage.

San Antonio will figure out how to deal with it Wednesday night, on the road, or they will be golfing on Thursday. Well, except for Gregg Popovich, he’ll go back to drinking fine wine.

Popovich has to come up with a scheme — and the Spurs have to execute — a game plan that gets Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili into the paint breaking down the Thunder defense. Ever since the Thunder started trapping the ball handler off the pick in Game 3 (and not letting them reuse that pick) the Spurs have struggled to score efficiently enough to win. San Antonio hasn’t made the Thunder pay with the pick-and-pop, their ball movement has been stagnated, and then it becomes a matter of isolations.

Part of that is Duncan himself — he cannot hesitate to shoot on the pick-and-pop. Same is true for the Spurs role players, who seem to hesitate before taking their jumpers against the Thunder, and that give’s OKC’s long athletes time to recover.

And with all that the Spurs still score. They put 103 points (104 points per 100 possessions pace) in Game 5. That would be the seventh best in the NBA last season, but is 4.5 points per 100 worse than what they did in the regular season.

The Spurs have to score and score big because they cannot stop the Thunder. San Antonio can play better defense on the pick-and-roll, they can slow the Thunder, but they have nobody who can stop Kevin Durant, they are not able to shut off Russell Westbrook. With Ibaka knocking down midrange jumpers and James Harden doing his thing the Spurs are not going to clamp down on the Thunder like they did the Clippers.

If San Antonio is going to push this to a Game 7 they will do it with their offense.

I just don’t know if they can because we’ve seen such growth from the Thunder these playoffs. They make their mistakes, but their ball movement is better, their effort level consistently higher — they are playing like we expect a veteran contender to do. They have been amazing.

And at home, in front of that crowd, they will be incredibly difficult to beat.

PBT Extra: Who wins MVP, other NBA end-of-season awards?

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The NBA’s award season seems more wide open than ever.

Ben Simmons was going to enter the season as the heavy favorite to win Rookie of the Year, but with him out injured the door is flung open to a lot of players. Coach of the Year is always a game of “which coach exceeds expectations.” Even MVP seems more open with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — the award winners the past three seasons — teamed up in the Bay Area.

In this latest PBT Extra I throw out my predictions for the awards, but let’s get on with the games next week and see who earns them.

Sixers Nerlens Noel to miss time following surgery on sore knee

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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During the ProBasketballTalk podcast with Sixers coach Brett Brown, you could hear the frustration in his voice. He has all these talented young front line players — Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor — but he can’t begin to figure out how they all fit together if he can’t get them on the court at the same time.

That problem just got worse.

The Sixers announced that Nerlens Noel will miss time following surgery to deal with soreness in his left knee. Here is the word from the press release itself:

During the normal course of evaluation and treatment for his left adductor strain, which was identified on October 6, Noel reported localized soreness in his left knee. After consulting with multiple specialists, the source of the soreness was identified as inflamed plica. Noel has elected to address the injury via a minor surgical procedure in the coming days.

The team gives no timeline for Noel’s return. Soreness from the plica — a band of tissue around the knee that is not important following birth — happens in some players and can be fixed by an arthroscopic surgery that removes the area being irritated. While the surgery is minor, it usually takes around six weeks to bounce back from this.

That likely means a little more run for Jahlil Okafor (just coming back from an injury of his own) and Richaun Holmes. But it’s just another injury setback for a Sixers team plagued by them.

The Sixers also announced that Jerryd Bayless will not have surgery on his wrist, but will remain out and be evaluated in two weeks.

If you didn’t watch the final seconds of the WNBA Finals, you should


This was flat out incredible.

After a back-and-forth, even series between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks, it came down to the final seconds (although maybe it shouldn’t have, the WNBA admitted Friday the referees missed a call with 1:14 left, giving the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike a bucket on a shot after the shot clock expired).

The biggest stars took over at the end, as you can see in the video above: L.A.’s Candace Parker drives and scores with 19 seconds left putting the Sparks up 75-74; Minnesota responded with a Maya Moore jumper to take the lead back, then it came down to Ogwumike (the WNBA’s 2016 MVP) getting the ball after a block by Sylvia Fowles and following it up with a fadeaway bucket that gave Los Angeles the title.

Congrats to Candace Parker on the win, after how she’s been overlooked on the awards circuit in the WNBA this season, this is some sweet revenge.

Report: Jrue Holiday’s wife, Lauren Holiday, undergoes successful brain surgery

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 31:  Jrue Holiday #11 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball during a game against the Golden State Warriors at the Smoothie King Center on October 31, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is away from the team as his wife, Lauren Holiday, battles a brain tumor.

First, Lauren gave birth to a healthy daughter.

Now, more good news.

John Reid of The Times-Picayune:

Hopefully, the Holidays continue to find good health.