“I thought we spotted them 24 minutes,” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after Game 5. “I don’t think we competed very well in the first half and they competed for 48.”
A few choice words were all it took for Popovich to sum up a disappointing home loss in what could’ve been the most important game in this Western Conference Finals series.
The Thunder, after starting the series out 0-2 have now taken control of the series and took away home court advantage and are one win away from the NBA Finals. According to Thunder forward Kevin Durant, taking is exactly what he expected his team to do.
“We never just thought we were supposed to wait our turn,” Durant said.
The Spurs took advantage of a slow start by the Thunder, who scored their first two points of the game with 8:29 remaining in the first. As has been the case in the last two games, missed opportunities came back to haunt the Spurs, who used two Tim Duncan jumpers to get ahead 15-8 before the Thunder went on a 9-0 run to take the lead.
The Thunder started their run when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made some questionable mass substitutions, which including having DeJuan Blair and Boris Diaw on the floor at the same time and using Matt Bonner on Thabo Sefolosha. Bonner was quickly pulled in favor of Danny Green, but the mishmash unit never seemed to jell.
The Thunder also took advantage of eight Spurs turnovers to take a five point lead at the end of the first quarter.
Manu Ginobili was the only saving grace for the Spurs. In just over seven first quarter minutes, Ginobili had seven points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Just as the Spurs have been plagued by second quarter struggles in the previous two games in Oklahoma City, it appears a change of venue did nothing to solve the issue. While the Spurs did their best to match the Thunder offense, they quickly found themselves in a deep hole, down 11 points after the Thunder went on a 15-7 run.
In a battle of Ginobili vs. Durant in the third quarter, the Spurs got up to a six point lead after Ginobili knocked down a three-pointer, but Durant answered with his own and ended the quarter with a 20-foot jumper that put the Thunder up by nine.
After being down 13 points with just over five minutes remaining, the Spurs started chipping away at the lead on an 11-0 run. San Antonio was within two after Tim Duncan hit a short turnaround jumper off the backboard, but James Harden made a closely contested three-pointer that pushed the Thunder back ahead by five.
“The play was for Kevin and the shot clock was going down. That’s why I had to make a play,” Harden said. “I think Kawhi Leonard was playing very good defense on me and I just had to make a shot. I just went back to my mechanics and shot the ball with confidence and it went in.”
Before the game, Popovich inserted Ginobili into the starting lineup in place of Danny Green. Ginobili got started early and was there to pick up the pieces for the Spurs all night until he was asked to make his sixth three-pointer of the night with just over four seconds left to play to tie the game.
After scoring 34 points and hitting 50 percent of his threes, Ginobili took a contested shot while fading to the right. A made three-pointer would’ve tied the game and could’ve potentially forced overtime.
But on a night when Popovich said the Spurs gave away two quarters, they wouldn’t be awarded with an extra period.
“We’ve been competing for three quarters in the past, and tonight we competed for two quarters,” Popovich said. “If we don’t get that straight, it’ll be over on Wednesday.”
The Spurs will have to win Game 6 tomorrow night in Oklahoma City to extend the series and hope to bring it back to San Antonio for Game 7.
The Spurs have been a resilient group all season and for most of the postseason. They’ll have to bounce back yet again if they have hopes to bring home their fifth Larry O’Brien trophy.
“I’m not submitting to nothing. We are going to win this game, we have to. If they can do it, we can do it,” Spurs forward Stephen Jackson said. “I’ll give them their props. They came in and did what they were supposed to do. They’re a great young team, but we have to do the same thing. I’m not counting us out.”