Jun 5, 2012, 12:41 AM EDT
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.
Apr 20, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Kemba Walker made James Jones look bad.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
Bobcats were scrappy, but with Al Jefferson hurting Miami just had too much LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Apr 20, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT
Touching moment as Gregg Popovich delivers a heartfelt message.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:21 PM EDT
Spurs close the game on a 19-4 run after trailing by double digits.
Apr 20, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Statement confirms referees handled replay review correctly, but also admits that they missed the initial foul call on a critical possession.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
If Jim Buss fails to deliver in quickly rebuilding the Lakers, he says he’ll resign.
Apr 20, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Roy Hibbert owned up to a poor Game 1. Will he do anything about it in Game 2 is the question.
Apr 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Shot clocks stopped working midway through the third quarter, but Raptors say all will be well in time for Game 2.
Apr 20, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Where you going, Evan?
Apr 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“That’s what I do!”
Apr 20, 2014, 12:44 AM EDT
OKC led by as many as 25 points in the first half.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:30 PM EDT
Roy Hibbert wasn’t good in Game 1 against the Hawks, and this play epitomized his performance.
Apr 19, 2014, 10:01 PM EDT
The eight-seed Hawks blowout the Pacers in Game 1.
Apr 19, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
Blake Griffin totally did this on purpose.
Apr 19, 2014, 7:12 PM EDT
Warriors steal Game 1 in Los Angeles.
Apr 19, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
It looked good as soon as it left his hands.
Apr 19, 2014, 4:06 PM EDT
Playoff games are played in the halfcourt and the Nets owned that in Game 1.
Apr 19, 2014, 2:39 PM EDT
A rare and raw show of emotion from a team’s GM was caught on camera.
Nash to Nowitzki: ‘What would you do if you were me? Would you come back?’ Dirk: ‘I’m not sure, bro.’ (VIDEO)
Apr 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Dirk Nowizki is brutally honest.
Apr 19, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
“Garnett and Pierce are so old the Raptor had to ask his dad about them.”
- Charlotte is scrappy but Heat have too much in comfortable 99-88 win 6
- Spurs use huge 4th quarter run to come back and win Game 1 vs. Mavericks 8
- NBA issues statement saying Chris Paul was fouled before late-game turnover against Warriors 17
- Jim Buss says he’ll step down if Lakers aren’t contenders again in ‘three to four years’ 36
- Thunder start fast, cruise to Game 1 win over Grizzlies 6