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Spurs-Thunder: Role players turn tide toward OKC

While San Antonio's bench players were thought to be the better unit, the Thunder's reserves have stepped up to put OKC on the brink of a trip to the NBA Finals.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 5, 2012

What once was San Antonio's biggest strength has now become its biggest weakness, and it's put the Oklahoma City Thunder one win away from its first trip to the NBA Finals.

The Spurs' role players have flat out disappeared.

A week ago, names like Matt Bonner and Gary Neal and Danny Green struck fear into the hearts of Thunder heads. Now, they're just helping the Thunder's cause.

Oklahoma City has taken a 3-2 series lead over San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals largely because the Thunder's complementary players have been better.

With the way this series has played out, the Western Conference crown figures to go to whichever team's role players perform best.

More and more, it's become clear that the Thunder's are a cut above, and national analysts are jumping on the bandwagon.

“I picked the Spurs to win the championship. (But) they can't beat Oklahoma City. You see that now.” said TNT analyst Charles Barkley following Game 5. “(The Thunder) just got better players. You can say what you want to. They got more guys who can have good games. The guys on the Spurs have not stepped up.”

The stars in this series, for the most part, have done their parts. But a breakdown of the production of the role players shows exactly how this series has flipped, putting Oklahoma City on the brink of becoming just the 15th team to come back and win a best-of-seven series after trailing 2-0.

Neal, Green, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter have combined to average 27 points, 16.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 3.6 turnovers in the first five games. They've shot 48 percent but have totaled 135 points on 127 shots.

For the Thunder, Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins have averaged 38.2 points, 22.4 rebounds, five assists and 4.4 turnovers. They've shot 49 percent and tallied 191 points on 55 shots.

“We have a very good basketball team, a deep basketball team, and a team that believes in each other,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Guys step up at (different) times throughout the year.”

The disparity in the numbers only widens when Games 3, 4 and 5, all Thunder wins, are examined as a unit.

That same five for the Thunder has contributed 44.3 points on 54 percent shooting. Those same five for the Spurs have scored just 23.6 points on 38.8 percent shooting.

“It's sort of interesting,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “I think the first two games, Oklahoma City didn't do a very good job of hitting the open man. They were pretty hellbent for leather and didn't really play with all the pieces and we took those games.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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