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.
“It's sort of reversed when I look at the film now. You can see us try to do some things on our own; too many people doing it on their own out of good intent, but it leads to contested shots, leads to turnovers, that kind of thing. You see Oklahoma City passing the ball and playing like we did in the first two games.”
Bonner, who has a history of burning the Thunder from 3-point range, has been a non-factor in this series. He's scored a mere four points on 1-for-9 shooting. Rookie Kawhi Leonard has been up and down for San Antonio, leaving Stephen Jackson — averaging 9.6 points on 60.7 percent shooting — as the only consistent performer of the Spurs' role players.
“(Manu) Ginobili's been fantastic two games, (Tony) Parker's had one good game and Duncan had a couple of good games, but nobody else has shown up,” Barkley said. “Stephen Jackson's been all right. But those other guys are not playing well and they are not going to go to Oklahoma City and play well.”
Barkley pointed to Daequan Cook's eight-point spurt in the second quarter of Game 5 as evidence that the Thunder has too many weapons for San Antonio.
“We keep saying somebody on the Spurs got to step up,” Barkley said. “Tonight, a guy who (hadn't) played for Oklahoma City, Daequan Cook, comes in and goes crazy. He hadn't even played. The guys on the Spurs, they got a home game and they did not show up. (The Thunder) got a guy who didn't even play last game and he's shooting 3s like he's been playing 45 minutes a night. The Spurs don't have enough guys playing well. That's the bottom line.”
Individually, Green, Neal, Bonner and Splitter are averaging their lowest point total in any round this season. The Thunder, on the other hand, has benefited from Collison, Ibaka, Perkins and Sefolosha all averaging the most points that they've produced in any round this postseason.
It's an unexpected reality that has put the Spurs on the ropes and the Thunder on the verge of conference supremacy.
San Antonio's only shot at extending this series now rests in its ability to reverse that trend and get quality performances from its role players on the road.
“I definitely believe,” said Jackson. “You know me, I'm not submitting to nothing. We're going to go win this game. We have to. If they can do it, we can do it. I give them their props. They came in and did what they were supposed to do. They're a great young team, but we got to do the same thing. I'm not counting us out.”