For the fifth time in this series, we witnessed a blowout. As if the last two games in OKC had never taken place, the Spurs picked up right where they left off in Game 2 and beat OKC in every facet of the game. Funny enough, that's exactly the same thing I wrote when describing what OKC did to the Spurs in Game 4: winning in every facet of the game.
This series is unlike any I've ever watched. After the first two games, it was difficult to imagine OKC winning a game in this series. After the next two, heading into tonight's contest, it was difficult to imagine the Spurs staying close. At least after the first two games, Ibaka's miraculous return from injury gave us something to help explain the dramatic change in outcomes. Tonight, even with Ibaka on the floor, the Spurs seemed unbeatable.
After the game, Tim Duncan said, "It's the craziest series I've ever been involved in. The back and forth, the changes, the leads and the wins. I don't know how to explain it. Both coaches have made great adjustments and their teams have responded." Gregg Popovich shocked the world with his announcement that Matt Bonner would start for the Spurs in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. Funny enough, Matt Bonner was the only Spur on the roster to not start a game during the regular season. Yet, Pop started him in the Spurs' biggest game of the year.
However, starting Matt Bonner wasn't really that big of a deal. What was important was that Popovich decided that the Spurs needed to play a stretch 4 at all times, and he didn't want to go small at that position. This meant that Bonner and Diaw were to share that 4 spot for the 48 minutes, or as long as the game was close, as it turned out.
Either Popovich's stretch 4 adjustment worked out as well as possible, or the Spurs just fought much harder than they did in OKC. I suppose it was a combination of the two. In Game 5, the Spurs drove relentlessly. Whereas in OKC the Spurs seemed to settle for outside looks, tonight in San Antonio they took the ball to the basket. The Spurs' aggressive style paid off in a big way as they earned 30 free throws while holding OKC to just 20.
Keeping the stretch 4 big also seemed to help the Spurs control the boards. They out-rebounded OKC 48-35 and also seemed to win most of the 50/50 balls. Basically, remember everything that happened in the last two games in OKC? Well, the opposite occurred tonight.
I developed a new theory while watching this one-sided affair. The Spurs playing well and the Thunder playing well are mutually exclusive events. I think that these two teams are so good that when one plays well, the other can't function. This is why each game has been a blowout. If OKC is playing great, it means that their defense is creating easy opportunities for their transition offense. It means they are getting to the line and controlling the game. If the Spurs are playing well, it means that their offense has the ball skipping. When the Spurs offense is clicking, like it did tonight, their defense feeds off of it and their opponent can't keep up. When the Spurs play well, it's demoralizing for the other team. It saps their energy and routs ensue.
I think the only way we are going to see a close game in this series is if neither team plays well. If the Spurs are sluggish and OKC isn't making every contested shot they take, we just might get a close game. But I am not sure if that's going to happen. Both teams are dialed in right now, to the extreme. So the question becomes, if both teams are playing great, whose A game is better than the other's A game?
Since OKC really needs its defense to create opportunities for its offense in order to play their A game, I think the Spurs win the game like they did tonight if both teams play well. If the Spurs are attacking the rim and moving the ball so flawlessly without turning it over, it prevents the Thunder from exploiting the areas where their athleticism gives them the greatest advantage. A good Spurs offense limits the effectiveness of the Thunder's athleticism by taking away their transition opportunities.
Honestly, I thought this was a game in which both teams played well. It's just that when the Spurs play well, OKC doesn't get the easy opportunity points that they require to keep pace with the Spurs. Their isolation heavy, half court offense just can't keep the game close, even if Durant and Westbrook are making a lot of tough shots.
In the first quarter of Game 5, OKC was rolling early. Matt Bonner's presence was not enough to steal the momentum that the Thunder had built in Games 3 and 4 in OKC. After eight minutes of action, the Spurs found themselves down seven, 19-12. However, over the last four minutes of the quarter, the Spurs offense exploded for 20 points to tie the Thunder at 32 heading into the second.
The Spurs' offensive explosion foreshadowed what would take place over the next three quarters. Again, the stretch 4 definitely seemed to create better spacing, but the main difference was the aggression that the Spurs played with. Ibaka was still in the paint, challenging shots. The difference was that after Ibaka blocked a few, the Spurs kept attacking.
As it tends to happen when the Spurs find their groove offensively, their defense wasn't far behind. In the second quarter, the Spurs again scored more than 30 points, this time 33, and just as importantly they held the Thunder to 23 points. In the third, the teams traded punches during the first eight minutes, and then the Spurs closed in fantastic fashion, effectively ending the game.
Down 20 entering the fourth quarter, it was very evident that the two OKC stars didn't have the energy to mount a comeback for their team. At the end of three, Durant had already logged 34 minutes while his sidekick, Russell Westbrook, wasn't far behind at 30. The two seemed exhausted and Scott Brooks threw in the towel with more than eight minutes still remaining in the game.
- Simply aggression or a stretch 4 impact? Points in the paint: Spurs 40, Thunder 36. Rebounds: Spurs 48, Thunder 35. Fast Break Points: Spurs 14, Thunder 4. 2nd Chance Points: Spurs 17, Thunder 11.
- Boris Diaw, the stretch 4 for 28 critical minutes, played a major role in keeping OKC's defense from overplaying the paint. He scored 13 points, made both his threes, grabbed six rebounds, dished three assists and finished with the second best +/- in the game of +19.
- Kawhi Leonard finished with the game's best +/- of +22. He played a great, controlled game. He scored 14 points on seven shots, grabbed seven rebounds, had two assists and two steals. Leonard is still trying to figure himself out. He still doesn't have the ability to create a high percentage shot for himself, but he knows he needs to score to help this offense. Some games he makes that weird contested pull-up and others he misses. Sometimes his three is hitting and sometimes it's not. I'd rather he give up on creating shots for himself and just focus on defense and rebounding. The Spurs seem to be at their best when Kawhi lets the game come to him.
- Tim Duncan scored a very efficient 22 points on just 13 shots and grabbed 12 rebounds. Tim, as always, was quietly critical. Tony Parker had a quiet game with just 12 points and four assists, but he made some important shots that kept the Spurs in control early on.
- I really liked Gregg Popovich's enthusiasm tonight. He seemed to be much more engaged, (enraged?), than usual. It seemed as if he decided before the game that he was going to do whatever it took to get the performance he needed out of his team. It was great to see the old man work for it.
- I think this was Manu Ginobili's best game of the playoffs, maybe even of the season. He finished with 19 points, six assists, four rebounds and no turnovers in 21 minutes. He scored his 19 points on just nine shots and his passing was flawless all night. The six assists don't do him justice. Some of his potential assists were ruined by desperation fouls because he put his teammates in such great positions to score that the Thunder just wrapped them up. The passes he flawlessly made tonight were so incredibly difficult that no one else in the playoffs would even attempt them. At this point in his career, his game is really dependent upon inches. An inch left or right means that his assist is a turnover. This type of performance is nearly impossible to pull off. So please take the time to enjoy it. It doesn't get better than this for Manu.