Spurs-Thunder: A changing of the guard?

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Spurs-Thunder: A changing of the guard?

From Comcast SportsNet
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Kevin Durant and the surging Oklahoma City Thunder are just one victory from the NBA finals. "We never just thought we were supposed to wait our turn," the 23-year-old Thunder star said following the biggest road win of his career Monday night. What little wait they've had could end Wednesday. That's when the Thunder can finish off the San Antonio Spurs back home in Oklahoma City -- where they're unbeaten in these playoffs -- and complete a remarkable turnaround in the Western Conference finals after starting in an 0-2 hole and up against a 20-game Spurs winning streak that ranks among the longest in NBA history. But look who's unstoppable now. Durant scored 27 points and the Thunder beat the Spurs 108-103 in Game 5, moving within a victory of a series knockout and the conference title after beating San Antonio for the third time in five days. "We came here, we wanted to get a win on their home floor," Durant said. "That's what it took for us to advance or to get to where we wanted to go." Russell Westbrook added 23 and the Thunder took a 3-2 lead in a wildly entertaining series. Looking invincible while carrying a 20-game winning streak a week ago -- the fourth-longest in NBA history -- the Spurs have lost three straight and are on the verge of a stunning collapse. Manu Ginobili scored 34 in a smashing return to the starting lineup, and the switch showed just how much Spurs coach Gregg Popovich knew his team might be in trouble. The only way the Spurs would have considered the move a success is if they had they won, and that chance went clanging off the back of the rim with 4.9 seconds left when Ginobili missed an off-balance 3. Ginobili then walked to the scorer's table, made a fist and hammered it down. "It wasn't a great shot, but it wasn't a bad one," Ginobili said. "It just didn't go in." It was the Spurs' first loss at home since April 11. Popovich said he removed Danny Green from the starting lineup and plugged in Ginobili -- who had started only seven previous times this season -- to give the Spurs "an energy boost." But that didn't solve a third straight uneven game for the Spurs, particularly another languid second quarter that put them in a 14-point hole. "If we don't get that straight," Popovich said, "it'll be over on Wednesday." Oklahoma City, meanwhile, is bringing home just what it needed: the must-win on the road. "That was a total team effort," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Everybody did their job. I thought we played as hard as we can play." Oklahoma City pulled it off behind their stars. James Harden scored 20, joining Durant and Westbrook as the only Thunder players in double figures. Harden hit the biggest shot, draining a 3-pointer with 28.8 seconds left that pushed Oklahoma City's lead to five. He admitted afterward that the ball was supposed to go to Durant but had no choice but to let go with the shot clock winding down and Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard in his face. "The shot clock was running down and I had to make a play," Harden said. "Leonard was playing great defense on me. I just shot it with confidence. West Conference finals -- that's a big shot." Tony Parker had 20 points and Tim Duncan had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs. After remaining unbeaten for 50 days before arriving in Oklahoma City, San Antonio has lost three games in five days. They now must win two straight to avoid seeing their last best chance to win in a title in the Duncan era end. "Championship teams win on the road," Popovich said. "Oklahoma City just did that." It's the first time the Spurs have lost three in a row all season. Durant scored 22 of his points in the second half. He dedicated the win to his uncle, whom Durant said was in the hospital. Westbrook also had 12 assists. Not wanting the series to slip away, Popovich moved Ginobili to the starting lineup in place of Green, who came in shooting a combined 8 of 28 in this series. Green's days as a starter began looking numbered after Game 3. He couldn't save his job before leaving Oklahoma City -- Green shot 4 of 12 in both losses combined -- and Popovich couldn't wait any longer with the series tied and the season in the balance. Out with the undrafted swingman who barely made training camp, and in with the former All-Star. Pulling this big an adjustment this deep in the season likely didn't come easy for the NBA coach of the year, and the gambit drew mixed results. It looked like a no-brainer with Ginobili leading all scorers at halftime with 14, but new rotations for the Spurs made for rocky possessions. None more so than in the second quarter, when the Spurs shot 38 percent. Ginobili finished 11 of 21 and made half of his 10 3-point attempts. But with the game and arguably San Antonio's season on the line, his last one didn't connect. "It's either win or go home," Ginobili said. "It's our job. Nobody is going to feel sorry about ourselves." Notes: Taking a page from the Thunder, the Spurs held a T-shirt whiteout at the AT&T Center, a move the team has rarely made before. ... Durant's the clear last-shot taker for the Thunder. Popovich said it's as obvious as Dirk Nowitzki having the ball in his hands at the end for Dallas. But who do the Spurs go to with the game on the line? "It's a secret," Popovich said before the game.

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Enemy Intel: Sunday games have playoff implications galore for Redskins

Enemy Intel: Sunday games have playoff implications galore for Redskins

As the Cowboys take their long week off after consecutive Thursday games the Redskins, Giants, Eagles, and other wild card contenders are in action. Here is Tandler’s weekly Redskins-centric spin around the NFL.

—The Giants are on a six-game winning streak and while that’s not easy to do against any level of competition it needs to be pointed out that their slate was squishy-soft with the last five wins coming against teams that currently have losing records. Now things get real with a trip to play the Steelers and a home date against the Cowboys. I’m not really sure how good the Giants are but if they split these two games I’ll be more impressed with them than I am now.

—The 5-6 Eagles travel to play the Bengals, who are just about out of contention for a sixth straight playoff appearance at 3-7-1. In fact, the Eagles might be just about out of it, too. Their big problem is 3-6 conference record, which puts them behind several other wild card contenders in this tiebreaker. It’s important because that is the second tiebreaker behind head to head. It’s better for the Redskins if the Bengals win but it probably won’t matter much. The consensus in Philadelphia seems to be that the Eagles are a rebuilding team that got off to a hot start, kindling some unrealistic hopes and expectations for the rest of 2016.

—The team is the hottest pursuit of the Redskins is the Buccaneers, who travel to San Diego to play a game that starts at the same time as Washington-Arizona. The Chargers are 5-6 but they are buried in last in the tough AFC West. This game is a coin flip. Redskins fans should root for the Chargers. If the Bucs lose, the Redskins would still hold the second wild card at the end of the day even if they should lose to the Cardinals.

—The 5-6 Saints are on the fringes of the wild card picture. They host the Lions, who are leading the NFC North by a game and a half over the Vikings and two games over the Packers. It’s probably best if the Lions win, which would just about eliminate the Saints. Still, there is a scenario where the Lions go into a minor tailspin, lose the division to either the Packers or Vikings but have a good enough record to take the second wild card. So like with most games within the NFC until the dust settles some more, there is some upside and some downside no matter which team wins.

—That scenario where the Lions fade from the division lead become a whole lot less likely if the Texans can go to Green Bay and beat the Packers. This is an interconference game so it’s an easy call to pull for Houston.

—Seattle, with a three-game lead in the NFC West, hosts the Panthers, who are on the outer fringe of the wild card race at 4-7. Another loss likely would ensure that Carolina won’t be able to defend its NFC title. This isn’t a pivotal game but probably better if the Seahawks win to end it for the wounded but potentially dangerous Panthers.

—My one loss last week was the Seahawks giving 5.5 on the road to the Bucs. I won with the Saints over the Rams and the Falcons over the Cardinals. This week I’m giving the Seahawks another go, giving 7 to the Panthers, and I’m taking the Patriots -13.5 against the Rams (the loss of Gronk doesn’t do much to equalize these teams) and the Saints giving 6 to the Lions.

MORE REDSKINS: Betting on the Redskins' playoff chances

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Five factors to predict Dolphins at Ravens this Sunday

Five factors to predict Dolphins at Ravens this Sunday

What: Dolphins (7-4) at Ravens (6-5)

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

Where: M&T Bank Stadium

Ravens injuries:

OUT – TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), G Alex Lewis (ankle), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh).

DOUBTFUL – RB Buck Allen (non-football issue).

QUESTIONABLE – WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle).

Dolphins injuries:

OUT – C Maurkice Pouncey (hip).

DOUBTFUL – CB Xavien Howard (knee).

QUESTIONABLE – OT Branden Albert (wrist), LB Kiko Alonso (hamstring), G Jermon Bushrod (calf), RB Kenyen Drake (knee); LB Jelani Jenkins (knee/hand); DT Earl Mitchell (back); WR DeVante Parker (back); G/T Laremy Tunsil (shoulder).

Five questions you should ask:

1. Are the Dolphins ready to win a big road game in December?

Despite their six-game winning streak, the Dolphins are just 2-3 away from home. Now you’re asking them to win at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Dolphins are 0-2 all-time? We’ll see. The Dolphins will gain credibility as an AFC playoff threat if they win this game.

2. Can the Ravens put together a complete offensive performance?

Quarterback Joe Flacco wasn’t satisfied with the Ravens’ 19-14 win over the Bengals in Week 12. Actually, he hasn’t been satisfied with the offense all season.

“When you have a team 16-3, you would like to choke them out and get it over with,” Flacco said.

He knows the Ravens have to play better offensively to go on a December run. And part of that improvement starts with Flacco.

3. Can the Ravens’ offensive line handle Cameron Wake (8½ sacks) and Ndamukong Suh (five sacks)?

The Dolphins’ defensive line has the ability to make Flacco’s day miserable. The Ravens’ offensive line will need one of its better performances.

4. Which team’s running game will be most effective?

This could be the key to victory, because both teams want to run and utilize play-action passing. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (847 yards, 5.3 yards per carry) is a load, but the Ravens have the NFL’s top-ranked run defense. Ravens rookie running back Kenneth Dixon is coming off his best game (13 carries, 49 yards), and looks ready to share more carries with Terrance West (600 yards).

5. Can the Ravens get enough pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill?

Tannehill has nine touchdown passes and just one interception during the Dolphins’ six-game winning streak. The Dolphins like to get Tannehill outside the pocket and take advantage of his ability to throw accurately on the move. Tannehill’s game has grown under new head coach Adam Gase. If the Ravens don’t throw Tannehill off his rhythm, he will make plays.

Prediction: Expect a typical close Ravens game, but I see them squeezing out a critical victory, on the strength of Justin Tucker’s leg.

Ravens 20, Dolphins 17 

MORE RAVENS: How Ravens could still win AFC North