Needing to respond after two losses in Oklahoma City, the Spurs came back in a big way, routing the Thunder in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead.
Oklahoma City Thunder RECAP
89 - 117 3-2 Spurs
5 things to know
Responding like champions
When trying to win a playoff series against a highly competitive opponent, it’s important to remember that nothing is ever as good as it seems, nor is it as bad as it can look on any given night. The San Antonio Spurs didn’t suddenly forget how to play during two awful games in Oklahoma City, but in order to be themselves again, an adjustment or two was necessary.
The move was simple, effective and oh so Spursian: Gregg Popovich dusted off Matt Bonner to draw Serge Ibaka away from the paint and open up the middle of the floor. In the second half he started Boris Diaw, who presented a different kind of challenge for one of the league’s premier weakside shot blockers.
The lineup maneuvers had the desired effect, as the Spurs attacked the rim without the fear and hesitation that marked their two defeats. With Ibaka’s attention elsewhere, Tim Duncan went to work and the San Antonio shooters were left open on the perimeter, where they buried 50 percent of their shots from behind the arc. The challenge was thrown down and the Spurs responded as they do, with a precise evisceration aided by well-timed tactical maneuvers. -Paul Flannery
The Spurs' meaningful changes
San Antonio's starting lineup change will get most of the attention, but it was a series of little tweaks that changed Game 5. Matt Bonner didn't do much. Boris Diaw was fine offensively, but rough defensively. Not playing Tiago Splitter with Tim Duncan helped, but not on its own.
The little tweaks, if you want to call them little, won this game. San Antonio emphasized a number of key points to deal with the Thunder's relentless athleticism. Their big men opened up to the ball a step quicker on ball screens, turning a short roll into an even shorter roll. Their guards were aggressive in splitting traps, whether by the dribble or the pass. Occasionally, as Grantland's Zach Lowe noted, they'd station a wing player closer to the ball to open up an easy pass to alleviate Oklahoma City's pressure. And most importantly, when they drove at Oklahoma City's bigs, their other players made themselves available for cuts and spot-up opportunities.
The obvious adjustments will get the credit, but the execution tweaks made all the difference. Usually, it really is a matter of doing what you're already doing, but much better. -Mike Prada
Back to the drawing board
Style points aren't measured on the scoreboard and they don't show up in the boxscore, but you know 'em when you see 'em. In running the Spurs off the floor in the last two games of the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder didn't just earn victories as much as they proclaimed their physical superiority. It takes a behemoth effort to make the Spurs look old, slow and tired, but that's exactly what Oklahoma City did in the last two games thanks to their endless length, athleticism and guile.
But a funny thing happened in Game 5: a little home cooking was all it took to get the Spurs back on their game and the Thunder away from theirs. OKC was whipped up and down the court by San Antonio's pristine cuts and ball movement, all while the Thunder's old warts showed themselves once again.
For the second time in these playoffs, Kendrick Perkins finished a game with zero points. The driving lanes Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were finding in Game 3 and Game 4 were replaced by the tough pull-up jumpers they opted for in the first two games of the series. Ibaka's jump shot was off all night and his rim protection was limited thanks to the presence of surprise starter Matt Bonner and a big game from Boris Diaw.
The Thunder get an elimination game in front of their frenzied home crowd on Saturday, and they better hope that's enough to make them right again. Oklahoma City may still have all of the athletes, but it doesn't matter when the Spurs are imposing their own pathological warfare. -Ricky O'Donnell
Home court rules all
Home court advantage appears to be the prevailing factor in the Western Conference Finals. In each game, the home team has won by a minimum of nine points, with double-digit blowouts occurring in four of the five contests. The series turns back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday, and the question becomes more about who can take charge away from their home floor.
San Antonio absolutely dominated the Thunder on Thursday, locking down on the three-point line and forcing Russell Westbrook to shoot just 12 shots in total. Serge Ibaka was nowhere to be found and Tim Duncan was efficient as ever. It was an absolute reversal from Game 4, where Westbrook dropped 40 points and Duncan attempted just eight field goals.
What's to account for all this? Maybe home court advantage really is what separates the two best teams out West. Or, maybe the two best teams out West have coaching staffs that can rally a game plan around some of the best players on the planet when it matters most. Whatever it may be, Saturday puts the Thunder back in the hot seat, facing elimination as the Spurs look to close in Oklahoma City. -Dane Carbaugh
Pop being Pop ... again
Gregg Popovich could be a nice guy to reporters. He knows more than enough to answer their questions. And when it comes down to it, he does genuinely care for the people who ask him things: look at the way he's treated Craig Sager during his illness, or the way he reportedly treats the reporter he viciously ribbed Thursday night.
But it's the NBA playoffs, and Gregg Popovich is Gregg Popovich. He'll snarl as his band of aged champions rally past the superstar de jour. He'll smirk as seemingly pointless lineup changes pay off. He's Gregg Popovich, and that's how this works.
And when reporters ask him questions -- even well-meaning, understandable ones -- he'll respond like Gregg Popovich. And we'll enjoy his ass act more than a million hours of coachspeak. -Rodger Sherman
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