A team that seems invincible one week can appear vulnerable the next. That’s why we watch the NBA playoffs, for the surprising plot twists and soap opera drama, and we also watch because of the rare brilliance produced by players such as Kevin Durant.
One day, LeBron James is surely the best basketball player on the planet. The next day, Durant emphatically states his case.
The postseason is the perfect setup for knee-jerk overreactions. Those who predicted James and the Miami Heat would sweep through the Eastern Conference finals are now expecting a seven-game series. Those who assumed the San Antonio Spurs were too good to be beat in the West now are questioning that theory because of Durant.
Only Alex Trebek has all the answers, but the anticipated Heat-Spurs matchup in the NBA Finals is in some jeopardy.
“I don’t think the Spurs are in trouble,” Cantor Gaming sports book director Mike Colbert said. “It’s going to go seven games. I still don’t think either team will be able to win on the road in that series.”
Each series is knotted 2-2, with the home teams standing 8-0. The underdogs, Boston and Oklahoma City, are definitely not playing dead. James failed in two shots against the Celtics on the road.
The ball is in Durant’s court now, with the Thunder going to San Antonio tonight for a fascinating Game 5. The Spurs, who have lost two in a row after winning 20 straight, are 5-point favorites.
A wild West shootout awaits. Sergio Leone should be directing it, and Durant is playing the gunslinging drifter with the deadly jump shot. His phenomenal performance Saturday, when he scored half of his 36 points in the fourth quarter of a 109-103 victory, put the Spurs on their heels.
The series is back where it started. The adjusted price on San Antonio to advance is minus-190. The differences are that Spurs point guard Tony Parker has been neutralized by the Thunder’s long defenders and Durant is threatening to dominate offensively.
“Durant showed me something I have not seen since 1998 and Michael Jordan. He was almost unstoppable,” Colbert said. “Every possession went through Durant in the fourth quarter, and he didn’t disappoint.
“He’s 6-10 and there’s no answer for him. There’s no way to guard him. The Spurs don’t have that go-to guy down the stretch, and that does concern me. I expect the Spurs to win it in seven, but Durant won’t go quietly.”
The noise level in Boston was jacked up Sunday, and a Game 4 that promised to be a thriller did not disappoint. The Celtics blew an 18-point lead before showing the resiliency that is in their DNA.
Boston closed as a 2½-point favorite in Game 3, which it won by 10. The situation Sunday called for a line adjustment, and it was significant. The betting public was looking for a bounce-back effort from the Heat, who closed as 2- to 2½-point favorites.
“A 5-point line move. For what? I don’t get it,” Colbert said before tipoff. “I don’t think the Heat should be favored. But we’re getting all Heat money. No real big bets, but I would say 80 to 85 percent of the bets are on the Heat. It’s by far the most one-sided betting we’ve seen in any of the four games in the series.”
This game had it all, including spectacular point guard play by the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo, a clutch 3-pointer by James in the last minute of regulation, officials’ whistles that influenced the outcome and, of course, Dwyane Wade’s 3 that bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
There was an assortment of bad calls, as usual, but the officials were not the key players this time. Boston lost Paul Pierce to a dumb offensive foul 38 seconds into overtime. James fouled out with 1:51 remaining in OT.
The coin flip was won by Boston, which won 93-91, and the sports books. The total ranged from 179½ to 180½, and that decision was equally tricky. The Celtics, who led 61-47 at the half, scored only 32 points the rest of the way. The game went into overtime at 178.
Win or lose, Boston’s core four of Rondo, Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen should not be broken up for at least another year.
Last week, I picked the Heat and Spurs to each win in six. It now would be a surprise if each series doesn’t go to seven games.
“I don’t give the Heat much of a chance to beat either team from the West,” Colbert said. “I don’t think two players can beat a team like the Spurs, who are way too well rounded to lose to a team like the Heat.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called Durant “arguably the best player on the planet.”
Durant must be the best player in San Antonio tonight, and even that might not be enough. The value of home-court advantage has been priceless in this postseason.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM).