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May 16, 2008
Playoff Prospectus
Thursday's Game

by Kevin Pelton

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Spurs 99, Hornets 80

Non-NBA fans are fond of demeaning the professional game by saying one need only watch the last five minutes of a contest. In this series between the New Orleans Hornets and the San Antonio Spurs, that aphorism ought to be amended. The critical part of these games has been the third quarter. With the Spurs outscoring the Hornets 20-11 in the third quarter Thursday and going on to a 99-80 victory, the winning team has had the advantage in all six third quarters of the series, averaging 28.7 points to the loser's 16.5 points. In fact, the third quarters have been so lopsided that the eight-point differential in Game Six was the second-smallest so far in the series.

Perhaps, then, we have figured out the home-court advantage quandary. At least in this series, it's not that role players' games don't travel, as Charles Barkley has suggested; it's that Head Coaches Gregg Popovich and Byron Scott are incapable of coming up with good halftime speeches in the unfamiliar confines of a road locker room.

While the Hornets have jumped on the Spurs from the start of the third quarters at New Orleans Arena, last night's run did not come until late in the period. When Tyson Chandler converted a Chris Paul feed into a dunk with 4:45 left in the third, New Orleans was within eight at 71-63. The Hornets would not score again until nearly three minutes into the fourth quarter, and they would not make a field goal until the 6:22 mark of the fourth. The field-goal drought lasted 10 minutes and 23 seconds and saw New Orleans miss 13 straight shots.

Defensively, San Antonio put on a clinic. The Spurs took away everything but Chris Paul from the Hornets. From a statistical perspective, the only thing New Orleans did well was avoid turnovers, with just nine. Other than that, the Hornets shot poorly from two-point range (43.7%), from three-point range (2-of-9, 22.2%), got to the free-throw line just 13 times (though with 12 makes) and rebounded 13.6% of their own misses (six offensive rebounds compared to 38 defensive boards for the Spurs).

The contrast between Games Five and Six could not have been much harsher for New Orleans forward David West, who started despite a pinched nerve in his back. West missed more shots (10) in 14 attempts last night than he did in his 25 Game Five attempts (nine), scoring 10 points before leaving in the fourth quarter after re-injuring his back. The news was better for the Hornets' other ailing starter, center Tyson Chandler, who had 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting and managed to play 40 minutes.

As for the Spurs, while Tim Duncan had a strong all-around game (20 points, 15 boards, six assists) and Manu Ginobili was lights-out from downtown (6-of-9 on threes), the biggest effort might have come from reserve forward Ime Udoka. Udoka was on the floor for runs in both halves, San Antonio outscoring New Orleans by an astounding 28 points in his 21 minutes of action. Udoka was hardly an innocent bystander, scoring 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including three hits from downtown. Improbably, Udoka has now tied Michael Finley as the Spurs' fifth-leading scorer in this series, trailing only the big three and Bruce Bowen.

Bizarre scheduling now takes center stage as, having played three games in five days, the two teams will now get three days off before reconvening Monday in New Orleans for the winner-take-all Game 7. The break has to help the Hornets, who have plenty of time to nurse their injuries. It also gives the coaching staffs on both sides a good chance to tweak their gameplans. That naturally favors the team coming off of a loss, which has more of a chance to make adjustments, though the Spurs' coaching staff should take full advantage of their opportunity. If the rest of this series is any indication, that preparation will all be rendered moot by the partisan crowd at the New Orleans Arena. Either way, it should be a doozy of a Game Seven. Make sure you're watching the third quarter.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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