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Thunder 108, Spurs 103

by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 5, 2012

Nuggets from my notebook from Monday's Game 5 win at San Antonio.

  • This team needed this win. This tough-as-nails Thunder team needed this grueling and gut-wrenching win to avoid returning home facing elimination in Game 6. But make no mistake. What happened in San Antonio on Monday night has far-reaching implications beyond the Thunder simply taking a 3-2 lead in this Western Conference Finals. This team needed to win the way it won. The Thunder needed to, once and for all, clear the hurdle that had caused so many heart-breaking losses. Oklahoma City needed to exorcize its demons, which for the past two years have haunted the Thunder in the form of blown leads in big games, offensive droughts down the stretch and deficient defense in crunch-time battles. The Thunder overcame those obstacles tonight. That's what this win was about. Game 5 will go down as the moment the Thunder stood up and said enough. Enough being the cute but not quite ready new kid on the block. Enough getting picked on by the schoolyard bully. The young guns that everyone has been waiting on to take over this league just rocked royalty. In the process, as part of their process, they grew a little wiser, a little tougher and a lot more confident.
  • The team that wins Game 5 when a series is tied 2-2 goes on to win 83.5 percent of the time.
  • The Thunder is one win from becoming just the 15th team in NBA history to come back and win a series after falling into a 2-0 hole.
  • The Thunder is one Game 6 win from sweeping the Spurs on the back end.
  • The Thunder is one win from its first trip to the NBA Finals.
  • After entering the fourth quarter with another nine-point lead, the Thunder nearly squandered it because of a near four-minute scoring drought in the final 5 1/2 minutes. OKC went up by 13 on a four-point play by James Harden with 5:17 left to play and didn't score again until 1:36 remained.
  • Those four minutes were arguably the toughest four minutes in the history of Thunder basketball. That's when the Thunder had to overcome nearly every single obstacle that has ever plagued it: turnovers, poor shot selection, missed shots, iso offense, stagnant offense, poor spacing, missed box outs, you name it. Somehow, the Thunder prevailed, withstanding an 11-0 run and the Spurs pulling within two twice in the final two minutes. It was a character-building stretch, one that the Thunder finally found a way to win and didn't have to learn from a loss.
  • Harden was absolutely huge. He hit the biggest two shots of the game for the Thunder, the first coming on the four-point play and the second being the 3-pointer with 28 seconds left. The second 3 came with just two seconds showing on the shot clock. Even though Harden had to let it fly, it was a confident stroke -- over pesky Spurs defender Kawhi Leonard no less -- that just looked like he had planned it all along (he didn't). Harden told TNT immediately after the game that it was the biggest shot of his life.
  • Harden on his final shot: "The play was for Kevin (Durant) and the shot clock was going down. That is why I had to make a play. I think Kawhi Leonard was playing very good defense on me, and I just had to make a shot. I just went back to my mechanics and shot the ball with confidence and it went in."
  • Don't underestimate Russell Westbrook's jumper with 1:36 remaining. The Thunder had nothing going and that shot that Westbrook finally got to fall ended San Antonio's 11-0 run and restored faith that this road win could be had.
  • Westbrook was just 8-for-22 before knocking down that bucket. And he had just turned it over on three straight possessions. But that's the thing about Westbrook. He can be awful for 10 minutes but then there will come a two-minute stretch when he just wills his team to a win. It's not always pretty. Matter of fact, it rarely is. But the guy finds a way to get it done.
  • With that said, Thunder coach Scott Brooks must have bumped his head to continue running the offense through Westbrook. For whatever reason, Westbrook initiated the offense time and time again down the stretch despite his turnovers and despite Tony Parker's dogged defense disrupting just about everything that Westbrook wanted to do. It was clear that Harden or Durant needed the ball in their hands, and at times they had it. But given Westbrook's late struggles, they didn't have it nearly enough.
  • The Thunder defended San Antonio's last meaningful possession extremely well. From start to finish. First, the Thunder made it tough for Manu Ginobili to get enough separation to even get the ball. Then the Thunder did a terrific job of crowding him when he did catch it and forcing him into an off-balance, contested 3-pointer. Ginobili took the shot right in front of me. It looked doomed from the moment he released it. But on this night, Ginobili was so great that I still felt it was about to fall.
  • Ginobili on his final shot: "Not as open as we wanted, but at least I could let it fly. It didn't look bad, but it was fading to the right. It wasn't my best shot, of course, but I didn't have options. They played good D. They realized I was coming to that corner, and they closed out so we had to improvise."
  • Manu was just marvelous. He had a game-high 34 points, 13 coming in the third quarter. And when he got hot, you knew there was nothing the Thunder could do to slow him down. He almost took over the game in the same fashion as Durant in Game 4. By the time Thabo Sefolosha switched from Parker to Ginobili, it was much too late. Ginobili was already rolling, already in a rhythm. He began splashing in shots from all over the court, stepping into 3-pointers and chucking them with the utmost confidence.
  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich inserted Ginobili into the starting lineup for this one, and the move had the potential to put a ton of pressure on the Thunder. First, it made the Thunder have to decide whether to leave Sefolosha on Parker or assign him to Ginobili and put Westbrook back on Parker. (The Thunder kept Thabo on Parker). It also freed up Ginobili some on defense since he didn't have to spend as much time guarding Harden. Ginobili could focus more on offense. And finally, Harden risked having to face a defender in Danny Green who could dedicate all of his energy to the defensive end coming off the bench. Obviously, things worked out for the Thunder.
  • Brooks on the Spurs starting Ginobili: "We had a feeling that they would insert Manu in the starting lineup. Our adjustment is just to play your man as hard as you can, and if you need help your teammate has to be there to help you. And that's what good teams do, and we did that tonight."
  • Popovich's adjustments didn't stop with Ginobili. Pop also went with DeJuan Blair as his first man off the bench after not playing the Thunder killer in most of the first four games. Blair made his first appearance in relief of Boris Diaw, who picked up two fouls in the first 5 1/2 minutes. The AT&T Center crowd went nuts as Blair strolled to the scorer's table. It looked like Blair was about to be the difference. But Blair finished with just two points, one rebound, one turnover and two fouls in seven minutes. Crisis avoided.
  • The best thing the Thunder did in Game 5 was weather the storm. Time and time again. All throughout this game things had the potential to go dreadfully wrong. But the Thunder just stuck with it and kept playing. And the players deserve a ton of credit for that.
    1. They overcame Ginobili in the starting lineup.
    2. They overcame an 0-for-7 start.
    3. They overcame Blair's brief stint.
    4. They overcame an 8-2 Spurs start, which soon became 11-5.
    5. They overcame three absolutely bogus foul calls that the benefited the Spurs in the first 53 seconds.
    6. They overcame two of those fouls being called on Serge Ibaka in the first 44 seconds and forcing him to sit the rest of the opening period.
    7. They overcame Ginobili's scoring outburst.
    8. They overcame a horrible second half by Westbrook.
    9. They overcame the Spurs dominating the glass.
    10. They overcame an 18-4 Spurs run to start the third quarter
    11. And they overcame that near four-minute scoring drought in the fourth quarter.
  • The Thunder shot itself in the foot at the start of the third quarter by turning it over three times on the first four possessions. Those giveaways killed what little momentum the Thunder had coming out of the locker room.
  • Allowing the Spurs to close the first half on an 8-2 run in the final two minutes destroyed a bunch of the momentum the Thunder could have had going into halftime. OKC had a 14-point lead with less than a minute and a half to go in the first half and let the Spurs put a significant dent into it just before the break.
  • San Antonio's turnovers have fueled the Thunder in this series. The Thunder scored 28 points off 21 Spurs turnovers. That's been a theme all series. Said Pop: "Part of that is us being sloppy or not delivering the ball at the right time, and part of it is that they've played really good defense. They've been physical."
  • The Spurs had eight turnovers leading to nine Thunder points in the first quarter. In those first 12 minutes, the Thunder had four turnovers but the Spurs didn't score off them. By halftime, the Thunder had scored 14 points off 11 Spurs turnovers. The Thunder still had just five turnovers, and the Spurs had yet to score a single point off them.
  • Some guy named Daequan Cook checked in for the Thunder with 9:05 remaining in the second quarter. He wore No. 14 and was amazing. Where has he been all postseason? This Cook guy scored eight straight points to ignite an 18-7 Thunder run that built that 14-point first-half lead.
  • Cook was so useful that he was the first guy mentioned in Brooks' post-game press conference. "I thought everybody did a great job of chipping in," Brooks said. "D.C., I give him a lot of credit. That's one of the toughest things to do in this league is to stay ready. Everybody talks about it but he has done that. He has worked and cheered and did everything under his power to get an opportunity to be ready, and he did a great job; stepped in and had eight points in two or three minutes."
  • Nick Collison is another unsung hero from this one. When he had to replace Ibaka early because of the foul trouble, Collison supplied great energy, defense and some much-needed offense, abusing Blair in the halfcourt.
  • How has this series been flipped? Pop? "They're a hell of a basketball team," Popovich said. "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..."
  • Up next. Game 6 on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
-DM-

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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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