Spurs find fountain of youth in Game 5


Old-age jokes no longer bother Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, who continue to age gracefully and inspire senior citizens everywhere.

The Spurs are the Don Rickles of the NBA, still entertaining after all these years, and maybe even better than ever. The window that seemed to slam shut on them two years ago still is wide open.

Two days after getting their false teeth knocked out, Duncan and the Spurs’ grumpy old men took out a cane and whipped the league’s swiftest superstar duo, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, until they limped to the bench and begged for mercy.

That was the storyline Thursday night, when the 38-year-old Duncan dropped 22 points and 12 rebounds in San Antonio’s 117-89 victory over Oklahoma City in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

The story might change again Saturday, when the Thunder return home and try to even the series. Home-court advantage in basketball is an older and more reliable factor than Duncan.

With the Spurs at home, a majority of bettors — around 60 percent — backed them as 5-point favorites after the line opened at 4.

“The public and sharps are landing mostly on the Spurs, and the biggest limit bets are mostly on the Spurs,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said before tipoff. “It’s one of those games where the public is lined up on the sharp side. It’s feast or famine night for the books.”

When it was over, which was late in the third quarter, the bettors were lined up at the buffet. On this night, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka’s presence was no factor, and neither was Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s big lineup adjustment. Home-court advantage in this series has been the only factor a handicapper needs to consider.

San Antonio has won its three home games by margins of 17, 35 and 28 points. Oklahoma City has won its two home games by nine and 13 points, though neither game was that close.

All five games have been one-sided jokes. I bet the Spurs to win the series at the adjusted price of minus-160 before Game 5 but stayed away Thursday while expecting this one to be close. It was close for a quarter before turning into another blowout.

The only tight decision was the total, which closed at 206½, and it was a bad beat for those who bet it over. The teams combined for 120 points in a furious first half, but the Thunder went quiet in a 34-point second half. Only two points were scored in the final 1½ minutes of garbage time as the score landed on 206.

It was a similar story Wednesday, when Indiana held off Miami 93-90 in Game 5 of the East finals. The Pacers missed 3 of 5 free throws in the final 15 seconds. The total ranged from 183 to 183½.

It finally should be time to throw the Pacers out with the garbage. A team that barely escaped in the first round against Atlanta and pulled it together just in time to eliminate Washington is on borrowed time.

Paul George was phenomenal for the Pacers, scoring 21 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter. George dominated a game in which LeBron James disappeared, and expect that storyline to change tonight.

James shot 2-for-10, scoring a postseason career-low seven points, and played only 24 minutes because of foul trouble. On a drive to the rim with five seconds left, he passed to the corner to Chris Bosh, who missed a potential winning 3-pointer.

It’s no secret James is an amazing passer, and he should be admired for that, but Indiana is about to take his best shot.

Is there anyone on the planet who truly believes the Pacers, 7½-point underdogs, will win Game 6?

“I don’t give Indiana much of a chance to win,” said handicapper Jim Kruger of VegasSportsAuthority.com. “Since the 2002 season, teams up 3-2 that lost the previous game are 27-7 straight up in Game 6. If they are home favorites, they are 17-3, including being on a 15-0 streak.

“Even though James played limited minutes, Miami still had some positives, shooting 15 of 31 from 3-point range and getting 22 assists on 34 baskets. Rashard Lewis, a grizzled veteran, sinking 6 of 9 3s is reminiscent of Babe Ruth’s final game when he smacked three homers.”

Ruth actually hit three homers in his next-to-last game. In his final game, Ruth grounded out in the first inning, made an error in left field and called it quits. That’s how these Pacers are probably going out.

The Thunder should put up more of a fight, and it would be tough to bet against them in Oklahoma City. Westbrook has gone wild in the playoffs, in the most positive sense, and Durant is not going out quietly.

Old age is the price you pay for maturity. Duncan might be slowing and going gray, but the Spurs are not running on knee replacements and taking naps at halftime.

It’s a team with three wise men and enough young guns to shake down the Thunder and beat the Heat in an NBA Finals rematch that will be no joke.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.