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Thunder-Spurs Game 5: Oklahoma City won like battle-tested veterans

Jun 5, 2012, 12:41 AM EDT

Kevin Durant, James Harden Getty Images

The conventional wisdom coming into this series was that the younger, less experienced Thunder might well not stand up to the level of play the battle tested Spurs were at.

But the Thunder have plenty of experience, too. We thought all season they were the team to beat in the West, that didn’t change until San Antonio got hot. The Thunder have been together for years, they have grown through the playoffs each year. They’ve become battle tested. They have added guys like Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher who have have rings. Even in these playoffs we have seen them evolve.

The Thunder are ready. They showed it Monday night in Game 5.

San Antonio played the game of a desperate team — they altered the starting lineup that had so recently won 10 straight playoff games, they played with spurts of incredible tenacity. San Antonio wanted this.

Oklahoma City withstood the storms, made their plays, came back and went on to win 108-103 (Stephen Jackson‘s last shot three was waived off) and take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals. OKC can close it out Wednesday night at home and advance to the NBA finals.

There comes a time in every series where the coach who realizes it is really slipping away from him starts making desperate moves with his lineup. When he’s willing to try anything to find a combination that works, to change the pace. It almost never works.

For Game 5 Gregg Popovich inserted Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup. He early on tried small lineups. It worked for a minute and the Spurs were up 8 quickly.

But the Thunder are experienced, they do not rattle easily, even on the road. They responded with a 9-0 run of their own and took the lead back before the end of the first quarter. As it had the last couple games, the athleticism of the Thunder disrupted the Spurs offense. The Spurs were out of synch. Their decisions were slow, the ball movement not crisp. Do that and the long, athletic Thunder can recover and contest shots. San Antonio shot just 39.5 percent in the first half with 11 turnovers. Yet they were only down 8, 52-44 at the break.

The start of the second half was like the start of the first, Ginobili was knocking down everything — he finished with 34 points on 21 shots. Tony Paker was defending Russell Westbrook the length of the court and the Spurs were hot, and 18-4 run. They took the lead, they looked like the old Spurs.

And the Thunder weathered the storm. Like a veteran team. They retook the lead, just like they did in the first half. Their defense was good enough, their offense was too much for the Spurs to stop. Kevin Durant had 27 points, Westbrook 23, Harden 20 on just 11 shots (including the dagger four point play). As a team, the Thunder shot 50 percent.

They were flat out better.

Call it a passing of the torch if you want, but we knew all season OKC was the team to beat. And it’s not like the Spurs passed the torch — OKC has ripped it out of their hands. They cranked up the defensive pressure, their offensive ball movement has taken a leap forward, they have been stellar.

They have been what we expect of contenders. And now they are one win away from the finals. Which they earned.

  1. dannythebisforbeast - Jun 5, 2012 at 12:52 AM

    Durant crowned before the king. Wouldn’t that be something

  2. canehouse - Jun 5, 2012 at 12:52 AM

    Tremendous game… Thunder are looking ready for their close up! Spurs battled as we all expected they would… I expect them to go down swinging on Wednesday night… but Durant, Harden, Westbrook, and company will be too much at home!

    One selfish thought from me would be… Will there be any HD microscope analysis of the Spurs attempt to tie the game? Certainly it should be blamed on Popovich… right? No it should be credited to the Thunder’s defense… just like the Celtics defense should have been credited for denying the HEAT a better run play at their final attempt to tie or win… right?

    LET’S GO HEAT!!!

  3. gopokes0714 - Jun 5, 2012 at 12:54 AM

    We haven’t won anything yet. We haven’t advanced yet. There is work to do, we have to still have to keep our foot on the gas, and we have to earn it.

    • bigmeechy74 - Jun 5, 2012 at 1:13 AM

      Ha i know man. I’m an OSU fan too. I have seen it too many times where we let our guard down and blow it. Kinda like georgia tech in the final 4 and Iowa St last year

      • ndnpaint - Jun 5, 2012 at 1:48 AM

        I’m a big OU fan and I think this is one of the few times we are on the same side…of anything. I’m going to do something I don’t think I’ve ever done before, which is give OSU a compliment. What the Thunder need to do what the old OSU b-ball teams used to be so good at, and that’s stomping on a team when their down. There I said it, won’t happen again.

      • ndnpaint - Jun 5, 2012 at 1:59 AM

        I’m a big OU fan and I think this is one of the few times we are on the same side…of anything. I’m going to do something I don’t think I’ve ever done before, which is give OSU a compliment. What the Thunder need to do “is” what the old OSU b-ball teams used to be so good at, and that’s stomping on a team when their down. There I said it, won’t happen again.

        I was nervous….

    • j0esixpack - Jun 5, 2012 at 11:46 AM

      Everyone understands that – but a young team giving the Spurs – battle tested and relatively healthy veterans who were on an incredible win streak in the playoffs – a good run for the money, coming back from 2-0 in the series to take a 3-2 lead deserves the credit that you’re seeing here.

    • iknowzeroaboutsports - Jun 5, 2012 at 1:01 PM

      “We”? Are you all suiting up Wednesday or do you get a paycheck from the front office?

      • gopokes0714 - Jun 5, 2012 at 4:42 PM

        “we” as in I am a fan. It’s pretty simple to understand really. So either you are an idiot, or disgruntled and petty. Which is it?

      • iknowzeroaboutsports - Jun 5, 2012 at 5:31 PM

        Fan does not make you a we. And why is it “we” when your team wins, but “they” when they lose? So unless you are taking a pass from Durant during regulation, you ain’t no “we”.

  4. captaincanuck84 - Jun 5, 2012 at 12:59 AM

    Terrible play drawn up by POP at the end of the game. But once again, NBA refs are horrendous

    • lyndseymarieee - Jun 5, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      I know! They all but handed the Spurs the game in the last five minutes and SA still couldn’t capitalize.

      STOP whining about the refs. It does nothing to help yourself or the team. The refs aren’t changing. Deal with it.

    • jolink653 - Jun 5, 2012 at 1:18 PM

      i hope you’re not a san antonio fan because no san antonio fan should have any right to complain about the reffing after games 1 and 2 of this series where ginobili and parker sold all their flops well enough for the refs to buy them….this game was called well on both sides compared to what we’ve seen in both conference finals and i thought san antonio was not given much of a home court advantage (which is nice to see)

  5. livingsacrifice86 - Jun 5, 2012 at 1:12 AM

    And so the tears rain down in the Pacific Northwest

    • teamobijuan - Jun 5, 2012 at 9:26 AM

      San Antonio’s in Texas.

      • limonadamas - Jun 5, 2012 at 9:45 AM

        @teamobijuan: i think that’s a reference to the fact that the Thunder used to be the Seattle Supersonics.

      • teamobijuan - Jun 5, 2012 at 9:46 AM

        I know. But south TX is also crying.

      • iknowzeroaboutsports - Jun 5, 2012 at 2:54 PM

        no, you didn’t know, but nice try to cover.

      • teamobijuan - Jun 5, 2012 at 5:45 PM

        No bro, I know.

  6. mahhelo - Jun 5, 2012 at 1:23 AM

    What torch are the Spurs passing? They haven’t won anything in 8 years.

  7. md23rewlz - Jun 5, 2012 at 1:31 AM

    The “conventional wisdom” was stupid to begin with, and nothing more than the lazy angle for sportswriters to take. The Thunder might not have San Antonio’s experience, but they were in the WCF last year against Dallas. Chalking every game up to being about age (VETERAN TEAM SHOWS THEY STILL HAVE THE MOXIE! YOUNG TEAM RIPS TORCH AWAY FROM OLD TEAM!) completely overlooks what an interesting series this is on other levels. I don’t blame sportswriters for using the layup angles (so to speak)–everybody has deadlines to meet–but when I can predict the headline based on whichever team wins without even watching the game, then that’s sort of lame. San Antonio won twenty games in a row. Not because they are a veteran team, but because they are a good team. OKC was one of the best teams in basketball because they have two of the best basketball players on the face of the planet. Age has nothing to do with it on either side. Not sure why I just went on that rant thing, but there you go.

    • connaniii - Jun 5, 2012 at 9:50 AM

      Correction, “THREE” best players, how can you overlook Harden the fearless “Beard”

  8. p1nch3dloaf - Jun 5, 2012 at 1:45 AM

    That 3-pointer by Harden was NASTY!!!

    • teamobijuan - Jun 5, 2012 at 9:29 AM

      It was sweet, but he needs to learn to pass the ball too. The Thunder will have great Spurs-like ball movement, until Harden gets it. Then he deems it a commandment from God himself to dribble a bunch. Westbrook also needs to learn to pass the ball even when he gets upset. There are way too many Thunder possessions with < 2 passes.

  9. txnative61 - Jun 5, 2012 at 1:53 AM

    Well—–It’s not over til——-, Spurs 2 Thunder 0, perfect in playoffs and can’t be beat. Thunder 3 Spurs 2 oh yeah, got their number, ripped torch away—blah blah blah! I can wait—-til it’s OVER!

    • davidly - Jun 5, 2012 at 6:28 AM

      It’s the same every year.

  10. davincizsp - Jun 5, 2012 at 4:02 AM

    Sadly Spurs screwed up their last chance to win a title for Tim:(

    • tampajoey - Jun 5, 2012 at 7:05 AM

      Tim Duncan already has 4 rings. He’s a winner and I wouldn’t count him out yet.

  11. mahhelo - Jun 5, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    What torch are the Spurs passing? The last time they won anything Durant, Westbrook, and Harden were in middle school.

  12. davidly - Jun 5, 2012 at 6:36 AM

    Either way it goes in game 6, everybody can claim insight as to how it makes sense. Who am I to say otherwise?

    But if the Spurs win in Oklahoma, the story will shift again to be about how hard it is to close out, and how game 7 in San Antonio plays heavily into the multi-championship team’s hands.

    Thunder look pretty damn good. There’d be record ratings if they meet the Heat in the finals; a good chunk of the viewership would be tuning in to watch Miami get spanked.

  13. 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 5, 2012 at 7:39 AM

    Impressive

    • j0esixpack - Jun 5, 2012 at 8:20 AM

      Very.

      Also I’ll be lovinn’ it if bozosforall’s rock solid can’t miss pick of the Spurs winning the championship can’t make it out of the Western finals.

      The hom0phobic kid who likes to make fun of the retarded deserves to be eating a lot of crow.

      • jimeejohnson - Jun 5, 2012 at 10:33 AM

        Deserves to be eating poison.

      • ndnpaint - Jun 5, 2012 at 2:32 PM

        Who are you talking about? Name please….

  14. mrhonorama - Jun 5, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    Only one game separated these teams in the standings and these last two games have been very close. Had OKC not gotten unreal production from their bigs in Game 4, we could be talking about the Thunder’s resilience in fighting back to 3-2 last night. OKC has done a great job limiting Tony Parker, which takes away the kickouts to the perimeter shooters that make the Spurs offense so lethal. With Big Mo on their side, it looks like OKC will close out the series on Wednesday. But nothing would surprise me in this series at this point. I’d sure like a Game 7.

  15. loungefly74 - Jun 5, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    this has the making of an epic series. gotta love it. and…its not over yet. lets not get ahead of ourselves. anything can still happen.

  16. furio2929 - Jun 5, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    It’s not over yet. Don’t count the spurs out and don’t celebrate in OKC till u win #4.

    • ndnpaint - Jun 5, 2012 at 2:36 PM

      Who’s celebrating?

  17. pastortodd78 - Jun 5, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    So no one is going to call out the article for having a wrong final score? Ok I will. I know they originally counted the 3 by Jackson at the buzzer but within a minute it was taken off the score, how hard is it for a responsible journalist to get the score right? Not like there were other games to cover last night. Wow. #smh

    • pastortodd78 - Jun 5, 2012 at 10:23 AM

      Corrected right after the comment…. #smh

  18. allball23 - Jun 5, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    OKC is too real. Lets Go we taking the chip this year!

  19. itsmammoth - Jun 5, 2012 at 12:31 PM

    The Spurs should practice with a fighter jet in the gym, because that’s about how loud it’s going to be in OKC for game 6.

  20. lakerluver - Jun 5, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    When are we gonna start talking about the fact that Brooks is out coaching Pop?

  21. bigmeechy74 - Jun 6, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    The interface on this site is awful. When you get a message in your inbox and try to reply to someone, you can’t scroll down and if you move the task bar the reply box disappears. How annoying. Anyway i was trying to reply to ndnpaint, OSU hasn’t been good in 8 years and it seems like 80. I miss those days. I hope the Thunder don’t blow it like they have.

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