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Five Burning Questions Ahead of Thunder-Spurs Game 5

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Just as most of us had predicted (and hoped), the Spurs-Thunder second-round series has been an absolute doozy. We’re only hours away from a pivotal Game 5. Jonathan Tjarks examines five burning questions in the series.

  1. Who will guard Kevin Durant? When Durant catches fire like he did in Game 4, it doesn’t really matter. Not even two-time defensive player of the year Kawhi Leonard could do much to prevent Durant from notching 41 points. The Spurs need Kawhi on KD as much as possible, but run the risk of spreading him too thin — Leonard’s ability to create his own shot is vital with the Spurs struggling to generate open looks as a whole. San Antonio’s other options aren’t so promising, though. Durant figured out the shorter Danny Green over the course of Game 4, and Kyle Anderson is giving up a tremendous amount of speed. Maybe Jonathon Simmons is worth dusting off?
  2. Do the Spurs have a second big man they can count on? LaMarcus Aldridge has been more than anything the Spurs could have asked for in this series, but they have gotten inconsistent play at best from their elderly trio of Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, and David West. None has been able to keep Steven Adams and Enes Kanter off the glass or force them to overexert on defense. It almost feels sacrilegious to ask, but is this it for Duncan? The eye test reveals a 40-year-old man who just can’t move fast enough to bang with the waves of athletes the Thunder are sending at him. If Duncan has anything left in the tank, Game 5 would be a great time for him to find it. And if he doesn’t, maybe it’s time to go small. Or maybe it’s time for the Spurs to unleash the Boban.
  3. Is Andre Roberson the mole? Roberson was the only Thunder starter with a negative plus-minus (minus-4 in 20 minutes) in Game 4, and that’s no coincidence. The Spurs have essentially blocked out his existence, leaving him wide open to such a disrespectful degree that even Tony Allen would blanch. In this series, a one-dimensional defensive specialist has to play Allen-level defense to even remotely justify being on the floor. Roberson hasn’t come close to that on Leonard, his primary assignment. If this continues, Billy Donovan will need a quick hook for his struggling starter in San Antonio.
  4. Which Russell Westbrook will show up tonight? It turns out less might be more for Westbrook in this series. His modest individual performance in Game 4 was more meaningful than his 31 points on 10-for-31 shooting the game before. The Thunder need a disciplined Westbrook. The team has been better without him dominating the ball in this series, so he will have to run the offense without being baited into taking the usual glut of tough shots. Westbrook is shooting 33 percent through the first four games, but feels due for an efficient explosion, if only to prove statistical randomness.
  5. Is it time for both teams to shorten their rotations? Coming into one of the biggest playoff games in recent NBA history, the obvious question is whether either team can afford to give minutes to their eighth, ninth, and 10th men. Every minute counts — just look at Nick Collison’s team-low minus-6 in only four minutes in Game 4. Gregg Popovich and Donovan can’t afford to play favorites in Game 5. There is too much on the line, not only for this season, but in the long-term trajectories for both franchises.

This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 10, 2016.