Thunder hold on for third straight win over Spurs
It was less than a week ago that the question arose as to whether they would be able to stop the most dominant team in the league. It was less than a week ago that they were going to be knocked aside by a team that had just won 20 straight games. Well look at them now.
Those same Oklahoma City Thunder who were facing an 0-2 series deficit last Tuesday have stormed right back and are suddenly on top three games to two with their third consecutive victory. Those same Spurs who were on a historic run and were poised in the minds of many to be champions are now on the brink of elimination and gasping for air.
The Thunder took Game 5 Monday 108-103 and suddenly find themselves just one win away from heading to the NBA Finals. The Spurs who seemed to hold all the answers on how to run an offense are now the team that’s looking for answers to stop an explosive Thunder team that has scored over 100 points in the last three games. The Matisse that was the Spurs offense is now reeling. The well-oiled machine that was the Spurs attack is now sputtering, having turned the ball over 21 times in two of the last three games.
“Championship teams win on the road,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Oklahoma City just did that.”
Oh how the tides have turned for the Spurs. The deepest team in the league totaled just 22 bench points after moving Manu Ginóbili to the starting lineup, in contrast to the Thunder bench that produced 40. Tony Parker has been bottled up as well, and while he did go for 20 points Monday, it came off 5-14 shooting and he mustered only four assists to pair with five turnovers.
Ginóbili did star en route to 34 points on 11-21 shooting while knocking down 50% of his threes. But as stellar as his performance was, however, it was no match for the closer in one Kevin Durant who went for 27 points that featured 22 in the second half.
This was a game of runs as the Thunder struggled to start the game, missing their first seven field goals and players getting in early foul trouble. They got going to close out the first quarter and were up 50-36 in the waning moments of the second before the Spurs narrowed the deficit to a 52-44 game heading into halftime. But in the end, the Thunder weathered the Spurs storm coming out of the break after the Spurs took a six point lead in the third period as OKC, led by Durant, took control of the game in building an 81-72 leading heading into the fourth quarter.
“We stuck together,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We had a couple bad stretches, but we didn’t break.”
The Thunder were up 13 after a four-point play by James Harden (20 points) with a little over five minutes to play. The Spurs came right back to cut the lead to just two but Harden stepped up and knocked down the dagger 3-pointer with 28.8 seconds left to give OKC a five point lead.
“The shot clock was running down and I had to make a play,” Harden said. “Leonard was playing great defense on me. I just shot it with confidence. West Conference finals — that’s a big shot.”
The Thunder have certainly come up big and fired out shots with their remarkable play the last three games. They once again shot 50% from the field and their defense has frustrated San Antonio’s pick-and-roll game ever since the Spurs’ surgical performance in Game 2.
By no means is this series close to over though. In spite of the roadblock the San Antonio Express have encountered, they are more than capable of winning a game and forcing a Game 7 back in the Alamo where they’ve lost just six games this season that includes the playoffs. They are well-coached and are made of championship material. The Thunder will certainly need to come out ready if they are to take out the champions and close the deal.
But the series heads back to Chesapeake Energy Arena where the Thunder have yet to lose this postseason. Popovich understands the magnitude of that game for the Spurs.
“If we don’t get that straight, it’ll be over on Wednesday,” Popovich said.
The Spurs’ 20 game win streak is history. With the chance to become the 15th team to come back from an 0-2 series hole, the Thunder’s incredible three game run can end up being historic.