SAN ANTONIO – The shot clock ticked down Monday night, and everyone from Rumble to Clay Bennett to the couple sitting in Section 224 wearing Russell Westbrook-replica fishing lure shirts and lens less frames had to be petrified.
The Thunder, up 13 points with 4:40 left in a game that could shift the balance of power in the NBA, suddenly led by only two points, final minute, and that shot clock ticked down.
Manu Ginobili was drop-kicking in baskets, and Tim Duncan looked sprightly again and Bexar County smelled an epic Spurs comeback.
And the clock kept ticking, 35, 34, 33. Time to hurry. Except James Harden never hurries. He has become an NBA star by going against time; Harden sometimes plays in slow motion. Most young players have to learn to speed up to the pace of the game. Harden slows down the game to his liking.
Which is why with the clock still ticking, 32, 31, 30, Harden took his time. With demonic defender Kawhi Leonard on his case, Harden dribbled inside the 3-point arc, then back out and launched a shot that could live long in Oklahoma City history.
Swish. A 3-pointer that drained the Riverwalk dry. The Thunder had a five-point lead with 28.8 seconds left and soon enough had a 108-103 victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
And now the West is there for the Thunder's taking. Beat the Spurs on Wednesday night back home in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder is headed for the NBA Finals.
“They're a hell of a basketball team,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has coached four NBA champs for the Alamo City but might have just witnessed a torch passing. “I don't know what else to tell you. It's not like we're playing the Sisters of the Poor. These guys are hard to guard, talented, hungry, athletic.”
Harden called the capper the biggest shot of his career. No duh, though the 4-point play he produced with 5:17 left was big, too. That gave the Thunder a 101-88 lead and should have slain the Spurs right then and there.
But the Spurs didn't get to their regal status by going softly into the night. They fought back with 10 straight points and made the Thunder sweat until the end.