SAN ANTONIO – There were 15.5 seconds left in Game 5 on Monday night and the Thunder was on the verge of blowing a 13-point lead in the final five minutes against the San Antonio Spurs.
OKC had just committed its sixth turnover of the fourth quarter, a period in which the Thunder had been outscored 14-2 in the paint to help rekindle a sellout crowd of 18,581 that suddenly was breathing fire again at the AT&T Center.
The possession at hand was not about the paint, but rather the 3-point arc.
On the court for the Spurs was Manu Ginobili, a legendary sixth man who had been thrown into the starting lineup and responded with 34 points, seven assists, six rebounds and five made 3-pointers so far in the game.
Also out there was forward Stephen Jackson, who had buried three 3-pointers himself, plus forward Boris Diaw, who also had a 3-pointer.
One more trifecta would tie the score at 106.
In the huddle during a timeout, Thunder coach Scott Brooks screamed for no easy 3s and told his players to switch defensively when the ball was near the arc.
Kawhi Leonard inbounded the ball to Jackson out top. Thabo Sefolosha started out defending Ginobili in the right corner, but Durant picked up Ginobili after he sprinted along the baseline to the opposite side of the court, where Tim Duncan stood ready to set a screen.
Ginobili ducked behind Duncan and tried to maneuver his way back toward the left corner, where Durant stood waiting. Ginobili passed the ball to Duncan, then quickly returned to retrieve the ball from Duncan, who set one final screen as Durant and Serge Ibaka tried their best to contest the shot.
Ginobili let it fly from the left wing with 4.9 seconds left. The ball hit the heel of the rim and deflected off Leonard's fingertips out of bounds in the right corner with 3.3 seconds left.
From there, the Thunder secured the 108-103 victory with two Durant free throws with 0.8 left.
Exactly who was defending Ginobili during the sequence remains uncertain. Asked to describe exactly what transpired, those involved were a little fuzzy on the details.
“I think there was two guys guarding him at the time,” Russell Westbrook said. “He took a tough 3. I think we did that and did a good job of that. He missed his shot, but I'm going to continue to say the same thing: I think our mental toughness throughout the whole game was so great in regards to what happened. I think we was always bouncing back.”
Brooks also took a crack at it: “I thought our guys did a great job of switching. That's what you want. Great players make incredible shots, and we knew that. We know that they have a few great players on that team that can make that shot. So we just wanted to make sure that we contest every shot that they will take.
“I thought the play before that, we gave Manu too quick of a two (with 22.9 seconds left) and we were up five. I thought we could have done a better job there. But I thought the next possession we did, and they took a tough shot and that's what you want, and rebounded and won the game because of toughness. That's the way you have to play.”
OK, Ginobili's turn.
Asked if he got the shot he wanted, Ginobili said: “Well, 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, and it wasn't a great shot, but it wasn't a bad one, either. It just didn't go in.”
Translation, no one is exactly sure what happened, but it happened, and the Thunder leads the series 3-2 heading back to Chesapeake Energy Arena for Game 6 on Wednesday at 8 p.m.