No matter how closely you scrutinize the Spurs' first five games against the New Orleans Hornets, you can't provide a logical, X's-and-O's explanation for why the defending champs look so dominant at home and so utterly inept when the third quarter rolls around in New Orleans. Sure, Tim Duncan battled a fever in the first two games, but what's his excuse for the poor shooting night in Game Five? Without question, the Hornets played a more dogged brand of defense last night than we saw in Game Four, with hard double-teams on Duncan and quick rotations to the Spurs' jump shooters. But does that explain a 42-point swing from Sunday to Tuesday?
Regardless of your biases, you can't help but come to the conclusion that the big difference between playing at home and on the road is not the crowd's intensity or the comfort that comes with a familiar court. It's the officiating. In San Antonio, Tony Parker has driven to the basket with impunity, aware that he's either going to slip by his defender or get a foul call. In New Orleans, he sees a clogged lane and is less willing to invade the paint, probably mindful of the fact that he's less likely to get a call if there's contact. So in San Antonio, the Spurs generate a lot of easy points, and in New Orleans they settle for outside shots. Why that always catches up with them in the third quarter is another issue, but the fundamental problem with the Spurs (and the Celtics, Jazz, Cavaliers, and Lakers) is that they lose their sense of aggression on the opponent's floor. It's hardly a new issue, but it's threatening to turn the NBA playoffs into a bad joke.