SAN ANTONIO — The lead just kept shrinking.
Slowly, surely, it seemed the Oklahoma City Thunder appeared destined to suffer the same fate it did in Game 1 of this Western Conference Finals.
Thirteen … 10 … eight.
Soon, the petrifying memory of the previous year's trip to this round reared its head.
The season was reaching its brink.
Six … four … two.
That's when Russell Westbrook hit a jump shot that restored all faith that this game, and perhaps this year, would be different.
The Thunder is now one win away from its first trip to the NBA Finals.
Oklahoma City withstood the stubborn San Antonio Spurs down the stretch on Monday night to take a 108-103 win in Game 5 inside the AT&T Center.
A win in Game 6 on Wednesday will crown the Thunder as Western Conference champions in just its fourth year in Oklahoma City.
The young, up-and-coming Thunder would become only the 15th team in NBA history to come back from a 2-0 series hole to win a best-of-seven series. It's now a reality that looked as bleak as can be last week, when the cagey old Spurs were sending a message to the Thunder that it might not be its time.
“We never just thought that we were supposed to wait our turn,” said Kevin Durant. “We always wanted to go and take everything.”
On this night, the Thunder did just that.
Owning a nine-point lead heading into the fourth quarter for the second time in this series, the Thunder's challenge this time was to finish the job. Oklahoma City opened this series with a heart-breaking three-point loss after blowing a 71-62 lead it took into the final frame.
But this time, the Thunder was prepared.
“We learned from it,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That first game, we didn't move the ball as well as we did, and we didn't defend as well as we were capable of defending.”
A 3-minute, 43 second scoring drought is what tested the Thunder this go-round.
After a James Harden converted a four-point play to put the Thunder up 101-88, the Thunder didn't score again until Westbrook willed in a pull-up jumper with 1:36 remaining. Before that basket, Westbrook was just 8-for-22 from the field.
No player characterized the team's struggles like Westbrook, who had three turnovers on consecutive possessions. Those giveaways gave the Spurs an opening.
San Antonio whittled the Thunder's lead down bit by bit. First the Spurs got a 3-pointer from Stephen Jackson, then a layup from Tim Duncan and then another. Duncan then hit a pair of free throws. Before you knew it, Manu Ginobili stood at the stripe set to cap an 11-0 run with another set of foul shots.
“We stuck together,” Brooks said. “We had a couple of bad stretches but we didn't break. We battled through that.”
After Westbrook's jumper, the Thunder got Tony Parker to miss a 16-foot jumper, which Westbrook contested wonderfully without fouling. Westbrook missed a driving layup at the other end, and Duncan made the Thunder pay by banking in a shot on a cross-match that had Harden covering him in the post.
The Thunder led 103-101 with 50.1 seconds left.
The AT&T Center crowd was on its feet. The noise was darn near deafening.
Harden then sent everyone home hoping this series returns to San Antonio for a Game 7. He hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc over Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard with just two seconds left on the shot clock.
It gave the Thunder a 106-101 lead with 28.8 seconds remaining.
“We were in the same situation going into the fourth up nine that we were in Game 1,” Westbrook said. “And during the timeout, guys came together and said, ‘We're not letting this happen again.'
“We all came together, became closer, and I think we hit two big shots and kind of willed us to a win.”
The Thunder now sits one away from its destination.