As I watched the perfect playoff run of the San Antonio Spurs come to an unceremonious ending last night in Oklahoma City, I thought of a line by former Laker coach and current Heat president Pat Riley. In his book Showtime, the story of the 1987 Lakers, Riley recalled when his team won the first two games of the Finals over the Celtics in decisive fashion and then lost Game 3. “Great, Riley, recalled thinking. “No more talk about sweeps.” I wonder if Gregg Popovich, similarly hard-nosed, although less adept at covering it up as the Spurs head man, is thinking the same thing the morning after Oklahoma City opened up a can in Game 3, to the tune of 102-82.
The Popovich-Riley analogy is the positive view for San Antonio fans to take, and indeed, continuing to keep winning like they were was completely unrealistic. As Riley pointed out in his book, when teams reach this level of the postseason, they’ve done so because of effort. Oklahoma City was going to bring everything they had with their season on the line, just like Boston did back in 1987 (and on Wednesday night in Miami for that matter).
But the flip side to that is this—the Spurs let OkC beat them by 20 points mostly by self-infliction. Oklahoma City played well to be sure, but it was not their best game. They shot 45 percent, they only hit 6-of-22 from three-point range, they only won rebounding 44-41 and the trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden only had 47 points. But San Antonio committed 21 turnovers and only forced 7. Tony Parker, after being a hero in Game 2, was responsible for five of those turnovers. Tim Duncan had just two rebounds. So if you’re San Antonio you have to feel like a chance to put the series away slipped through your fingers, while Oklahoma City can feel like they still have a better game in their back pocket when these teams return to the floor on Saturday night.
Boston now tries to do what OkC pulled off and that’s get a survival win in Game 3 in front of a raucous crowd when they host Miami tonight. There’s been plenty of discussion of officiating going against the Celts in the first two games. As a C’s fan, I’m not unbiased obviously, and consequently this is an area I tend to avoid when it comes to my favorite teams, because we all remember the calls that went against our teams and forget any breaks we got.
The spate of technical fouls called on Boston in Game 1 were absurd, but also inconsequential given how decisively Miami won. The free throw disparity on Wednesday was disturbing, given how frequently the Heat settled for three-point shots and the Celts went to the hoop with greater ferocity than normal. But unless I actually rewatched the game and evaluated the calls individually, that’s a tough decision to make. I do believe that the public controversy makes it more likely than what I was already expecting will come to pass—the league, wanting some drama for a Game 4, will get the C’s 40-50 free throws tonight. Now the officials have extra justification.