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.
Jul 2, 2015, 12:01 AM EDT
Good value for Boston
Jul 1, 2015, 11:27 PM EDT
The Warriors are keeping the band together — and they will be at the top of the West for a while.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:27 PM EDT
Philadelphia takes Jason Thompson, Carl Landry from Sacramento
Jul 1, 2015, 11:04 PM EDT
Asik will take some pressure off Anthony Davis
Jul 1, 2015, 9:57 PM EDT
Neither are the Pacers
Jul 1, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Not a good idea
Jul 1, 2015, 7:53 PM EDT
The Brad Stevens Effect
Jul 1, 2015, 7:40 PM EDT
Cleveland continues to soar over luxury-tax lines
Jul 1, 2015, 7:34 PM EDT
Would Paul Pierce agree to this if DeAndre Jordan were leaving town?
Jul 1, 2015, 7:07 PM EDT
Millsap had been flirting with Orlando but chose a shorter deal in Atlanta.
Jul 1, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT
Will Wright back up or replace Marc Gasol?
Jul 1, 2015, 6:43 PM EDT
Will that be enough to get Aldridge back to Portland?
Jul 1, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT
He is using this to leverage the Cavaliers, but the door is open.
Jul 1, 2015, 6:07 PM EDT
This is a contract the Thunder can live with or move, depending.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT
Even if another team signs him to an offer sheet, the Warriors will just match it.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT
Aldridge and Kobe Bryant didn’t quite click in their meeting.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT
The Suns look like a team ready to run again.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:11 PM EDT
Boston gets nice value on a short-term frontcourt upgrade.
Jul 1, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT
The road to the NBA Finals out of the East — and maybe to the Larry O’Brien trophy itself — goes through Cleveland.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Love returns, just as he maintained all season long.
- Report: Warriors, Draymond Green agree to five-year, $85 million deal 7
- 76ers get Nik Stauskas, first-rounder in salary-dump trade with Kings 12
- Report: Pelicans finalizing deal with Omer Asik 2
- Reports: Paul Pierce agrees to three-year, $10 million contract with Los Angeles Clippers 20
- Report: LaMarcus Aldridge rules out Lakers in free agent decision 97
- Reports: Phoenix Suns sign Tyson Chandler, re-sign Brandon Knight, try to reshape roster 11
- Kevin Love will return to Cavaliers, contract is reportedly $110 million over five years 78
- Report: Spurs reach deal to trade Tiago Splitter to Hawks, create cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge offer 27