Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hornets and Spurs shape up for the decider

This isn’t the way it normally goes in the playoffs for the San Antonio Spurs. Having survived one elimination game already, they immediately find themselves in the unfamiliar position of facing another, this time on Monday night and this time they won’t have the usual comfort of home town support either.
The New Orleans Hornets haven’t yet wavered in the face of pressure from the stage they’re on, nor the opponent they face. While they haven’t been able to breakthrough for a win on the road, they’ve been equally as impenetrable on their own home court, easily denying San Antonio a win in each of its 3 tries. If New Orleans is able to maintain their home form and eliminate San Antonio, they will only add to the mounting evidence that their regular season success was by no means a fluke.
Neither team has been in total control of this series. Of the six games played, the home team has won comfortably each time. The average margin of victory being 18 points.
After the first 2 games, it looked like New Orleans had the defending champion on the ropes. Two convincing wins and the early suggestion was that maybe the Spurs were on the decline and this was one fight too many. Like any good fighter though, San Antonio’s counter attack was strong and they evened the series with home wins in games 3 and 4. Game 5 was back at New Orleans and again the Hornets landed a heavy blow as they thumped San Antonio by 22 points, only for the Spurs to retaliate in game 6 and hand the Hornets a 19 point loss of their own and even the series at 3 wins apiece.
San Antonio is showing that it can play the role of challenger equally as well as it plays the role of champion. If game 7 does prove to be their de-throning, it seems only fitting that it takes the full allocation of games for them to bow out. They’ve been well respected champions of the league for a long time and won’t concede without a fierce fight.
As expected, the intensity of this series has lifted with each game. This year, as with last, there have been fewer opportunities for Robert Horry to add to his impressive list of game winning shots & he’s had to resort to more sinister ways to become involved in the action. His double armed cross check from behind on New Orleans forward David West in game 6 sent the Hornets All-Star to the floor, clutching his back. It didn’t quite have the same venom as the chest-bump Horry delivered on Phoenix's Steve Nash in last year’s Western Conference Finals, but the message was the same; Getting past San Antonio is no easy task.
The duel between the point guards Chris Paul & Tony Parker has been nothing short of outstanding, with honors even to this point. It's likely that whoever wins this match up in the final game, will lead their team to the series victory.
Whatever happens in game 7 though, New Orleans has shown that they intend on having a large say in the playoffs for many years to come. It would be foolish to think that this is San Antonio’s last roll of the dice as their roster is a still relatively young. Old man Tim Duncan is only 32, Manu Ginobili 30 and Parker still a pup at 25.
In sport, it’s said that you need to ‘lose big’ before you get to ‘win big’. New Orleans don’t appear to be in any rush to conform to traditions though and like to play by their own rules. Look for this trend to continue in game 7 and for New Orleans to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

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