It’s Closing Time
After the San Antonio Spurs 110-107 overtime victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 5, they now lead the series 3-2 and look to close it out on Thursday. In typical Spur fashion, the team always finds a way to bounce back from adversity. As the team heads to Houston, the Spurs must continue to execute on both sides of the court, if they want to close out the lethal three-point shooting team in the Rockets.
In order to avoid a Game 7, where anything is possible, the Spurs should follow these four major keys.
Kawhi MUST be Healthy
Would a car work without its engine? The same question could be asked about the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard. After suffering a sprained left ankle in the third quarter of Game 5, Leonard missed the end of the fourth and all of overtime. His status for Game 6 remains up in the air. The importance of Leonard to the Spurs needs no mention. This series, he has arguably been the best player on both sides of the court. “The Claw” is averaging 23.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 5.8 assist per game. The chances of the Spurs closing out the series without Leonard are slim; however, like every team has learned since 1997, never doubt Coach Popovich and the Spurs. If Leonard is unavailable, cue the broken record again saying, “Aldridge will have to step up.”
UPDATE: LEONARD IS OUT FOR GAME 6
Operation: Slow Down Harden’s Teammates
Imagine this scenario. James Harden scores with 11:12 remaining in the third quarter and does not score again for the rest of the game. How awesome would that be for the Spurs? While that didn’t exactly happen, Harden was held scoreless from that period in third until he sunk a free throw with 7:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. The key to victory is not slowing down Harden, he will get his, but slowing down his teammates. In Game 5, starters Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela scored a combined 18 points. As Coach Mike D’Antoni demonstrated, the Rockets may only have two players off the bench, thus limiting themselves. If the Spurs can contain those around Harden, they should capture another W.
Control the Glass
In the three Spur victories this series, they have won the rebounding battle, 48-32, 49-39 and 52-47. In Game 5, they received 15 from Leonard and 14 from Aldridge. If the Spurs control the boards, they can also control the pace. The team’s aged veterans do not want to get into an up-tempo game against the younger Rockets. By controlling the glass, the Spurs will also have more offensive possessions. They took 17 more shots than the Rockets in the overtime victory. If the Spurs control the offense, they also take the Houston crowd out of the game.
The Bench Continues to Contribute
The Spurs continue to exemplify the motto “Next Man Up.” After Tony Parker suffered a season ending leg injury in Game 2, the bench has fueled the Spurs. In Game 3, Patty Mills scored 15 points off the bench. While as a starter in Game 5, he added 20 points. Ageless wonder Manu Ginobili contributed 12 points, seven rebounds, five assist and a game-winning block on Harden to secure the victory. Rookie Jonathan Simmons also added 12 points. The Spurs must continue to get little contributions from their bench, whether it is 30 minutes or five. Solid bench play allows the starters to receive a break. During Game 6, Manu must once again turn back the clock and have Spurs fans screaming like Charles Barkley, “GINOBILI!” into the next round.
Information and stats courtesy ESPN, Basketball-Reference,