Thunder Storm Back To Spoil Spurs' Homecoming

The Spurs are streaking again -- but they're going in the wrong direction, losing their third in a row to the Thunder. OKC now holds a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Previously: Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant Lead Thunder to Game 4 Win

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NBA Playoffs: Spurs Appear Wounded, But That Might Not Be A Bad Thing

The San Antonio Spurs began their run in the NBA Playoffs with a ten-game winning streak. That seems like a long time ago now, however, considering that the Oklahoma City Thunder just defeated them for a third consecutive time in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

The loss, resulting in the first three-game losing streak the Spurs have had to endure all season, would be pretty difficult to put on the Spurs. Instead, it seems like the Thunder have finally reached their potential -- as SB Nation colleague Andrew Sharp notes -- while the Spurs can only see their primes in the rearview mirror.

All isn't lost in San Antonio quite yet, though, because this is the same Spurs team that strung together 20 wins in a row earlier this year. Heck, this is the same team that some thought might sweep the Thunder once they took a 2-0 advantage earlier in the series.

In fact, this might be exactly what the Spurs needed. The vulnerability might even help the Spurs get on track, according to Pounding the Rock's Matthew Tynan.

Popovich entered the locker room - which he never does following a game amidst the media scrum - and walked right up to the 20-year-old rookie who is less than a third his age. He put his hand on Kawhi Leonard's broad shoulder and said something that led the rookie to nod in acknowledgement. Whatever it was he said, and whatever the reason for the brief heart-to-heart, Pop showed he's not the rigid old man most see him as. He knows this was only Game 5, and more importantly he knows he needs his youngest player if this series is to continue.

For the first time all season this team looked human. Suddenly, this machine not only seemed mortal, it appeared wounded. But if there's one thing you hope vulnerability invokes, it's a higher sense of pride - perhaps the most important human emotion in sports. There's no shortage of that with this team, especially in certain corners.

Whether the current setbacks are enough to reinvigorate Tim Duncan and the Spurs remains to be seen, but after reading that ... one has to think they have a chance, huh?

For more on the Spurs, check out Pounding the Rock. For Thunder news and notes, visit Welcome To Loud City. And for news, analysis and everything else revolving around the NBA Playoffs, be sure to visit SB Nation's NBA page.

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The Thunder Are Beautiful And Terrifying And Only Getting Better

A week after being pronounced dead against the Spurs, Kevin Durant and the Thunder won Game 5 in San Antonio Monday. They're playing beautiful basketball again, looking scarier than ever.

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How Thunder Have Turned The Tables On Spurs

Six days ago the Spurs had won 10 straight playoff games and led the Western Conference Finals 2-0, and everyone assumed they'd be heading to the NBA Finals shortly. Instead, the Thunder have won three straight to take control of the series.

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VIDEO: Breaking Down Manu Ginobili's Missed Game-Tying 3-Point Attempt

Thanks to an especially generous call on a stolen pass by Kawhi Leonard on Thabo Sefolosha (Leonard fouled him), the Spurs got the ball back down three points to the Oklahoma City Thunder with 15 seconds left in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. This gave Gregg Popovich, one of the greatest tacticians this game has ever seen, a chance to draw up a game-tying play. As it turns out, the Spurs got a decent three-point look for Manu Ginobili, but it fell just short, ending the Spurs' upset bid.

But was it a good play? First, check it out yourself.

Before we answer the above question, we have to acknowledge that it's very hard to draw up a good play to get a three-pointer in that situation. The degree of difficulty was very, very high. Popovich's play had multiple options and was at least well executed, which is more than you can say about most plays in this situation.

That said, there's also a lot I didn't like about the play. Let's start with the basics: down three with 15 seconds left, it probably made more sense to be more vigilant about getting a quick two-pointer and extending the game. Instead, it looks like the plan was to get the game-tying three right away.

More specifically, I'm not a huge fan of two key elements of the play: sending the ball-handler to the sidelines, and using Tim Duncan as the screener.

The play featured Ginobili and Duncan running a screen and roll, with Ginobili catching the ball in the middle of the floor going left. Ginobili made contact with Duncan, but the Thunder trapped him, forcing a very difficult pass back to Duncan around the three-point line.

Trap_1_medium

I know coaches do this a lot, but I don't like sending Ginobili to the sidelines. To me, it makes him easier to trap and, frankly, Popovich was lucky in many ways that Ginobili somehow made that pass. A lesser player would have been swallowed up by that trap. This is the risk with sending the ball to the sidelines. If you keep the ball in the middle of the floor, it makes it nearly impossible to double team.

The other reason that the Thunder trapped, though, is the other reason I didn't like that play. Save for a shocking attempt to sink the Phoenix Suns in the 2008 NBA Playoffs, Tim Duncan doesn't shoot three-pointers. Knowing this, the Thunder left him to cut off Ginobili's drive, then hesitated to get back to him. Duncan took a look at the basket but, as the Thunder expected, his instincts kicked in and he didn't take the shot, instead looking to dish back to Ginobili.

Duncan2_1_medium

Then again, maybe Popovich had no choice. A better strategy may have been to put in another three-point shooter, but Matt Bonner had been on the bench for nearly the whole game, and nobody else (maybe not even Bonner either) could be counted on to set a good screen.

All that said, Popovich's play design made it too easy for the Thunder to ignore Duncan. Ginobili eventually got an OK look ducking behind the screen, but he was fading away, a lot of time had ticked off and he had already run all the way across the court. This was a tougher shot than it looks.

Shot_1_medium

Again: it's hard as hell to run a good play in this situation, and the Thunder's defense deserves a lot of credit. But I think Popovich may have made a couple miscalculations sending the screen to the sidelines and making it easy for the Thunder to trap Ginobili.

For more on the Spurs, check out Pounding the Rock. For Thunder news and notes, visit Welcome To Loud City. And for news, analysis and everything else revolving around the NBA Playoffs, be sure to visit SB Nation's NBA page.

Check out the SB Nation Channel on YouTube

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Spurs Vs. Thunder, 2012 NBA Playoffs Game 5: Oklahoma City Takes Series Lead In San Antonio

The Oklahoma City Thunder had to leave the friendly confines of home for Monday night's game in the Western Conference Finals. Luckily for them, however, their momentum from Games 3 and 4 carried over as they were able to pick up a big win on the way to a 3-2 lead over the San Antonio Spurs in the potential seven-game series.

James Harden hit what might have been the biggest shot of the playoffs thus far, given the circumstances, in what ended up being a dagger three-pointer with less than a minute left in the game. The Spurs had a chance to tie it, but Manu Ginobili missed what would have been the tying shot with just a few seconds left on the clock to allow the Thunder to escape with a 108-103 victory.

It seemed as though San Antonio was on its way to a comeback victory after trailing by eight points at halftime, but Harden's dagger three-pointer close the door on any sort of Spurs momentum. The loss was a serious surprise to those that have followed San Antonio's season considering tit was the first time they've lost three consecutive games all season -- especially since it came at what was likely the most inopportune time.

Oklahoma City's stars all did about what is expected, as Kevin Durant scored 27 points -- despite being involved less than he should have been down the stretch -- while Russell Westbrook scored 23 points to go with 12 assists. Harden's night was strong, too, as he finished with 20 points while making 3-of-4 from beyond the three-point arc to go with a +24 in the +/- department.

San Antonio will need to regroup considering their move of inserting Ginobili into the starting lineup wasn't enough to cure what's currently ailing them. The former Sixth Man of the Year still finished with a game-high 34 points to complement Tim Duncan's 18-point, 12-rebound performance while Tony Parker scored a quiet 20 points, but more changes are going to need to occur for the Spurs to stave off a fourth-straight defeat.

For more on the Spurs, check out Pounding the Rock. For Thunder news and notes, visit Welcome To Loud City. And for news, analysis and everything else revolving around the NBA Playoffs, be sure to visit SB Nation's NBA page.

Check out the SB Nation Channel on YouTube

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Durantula Unleashed: How Kevin Durant Was Freed

How did Kevin Durant single-handedly carry the Thunder to a Game 4 win over the Spurs in the fourth quarter? He didn't really do it single-handedly.

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