Game 5 Western Semi-Finals Vs. Oklahoma City: Thunder 95, Spurs 91 Series: OKC leads 3-2
Well, the Spurs lost their second consecutive home game after dropping just one all season long, and sure there is a really easy narrative to take away from it, the coincidence between how this game ended and how Game 2 at the AT&T Center went down.
We might as well address the elephant in the room right away instead of beating around the bush.
Of course I'm referring to the fact that the Spurs didn't have enough guys play well enough to win. Man, what gives with that?
In Game 2 they got a herculean scoring effort from LaMarcus Aldridge, halfway decent production off the bench from Manu Ginobili and a few hustle plays from Kawhi Leonard and that was pretty much it. This time around, Leonard was a force at both ends and Danny Green was fantastic from deep, but they just got next to nothing from anyone else, and it led to another close loss.
Okay, okay, I'm being coy. And you're thinking about stabbing me right now and rightfully so. Yes, there were some controversial calls that may have swung the outcome. Perhaps Steven Adams intentionally tripped Green, causing him to run into a Kevin Durant jumper. Personally, I think it was a 50/50 call. It didn't look intentional to me.
Then, a couple possessions later, the refs missed Leonard fouling Russell Westbrook intentionally, and that no-call led to a game-icing "and-1."
Even if the refs make the proper call there, the Spurs would still be down three assuming Westbrook nails both freebies and be in dire need of a bomb just to tie. If anything, the (non-) call that really hurt them was the officials missing Westbrook fouling Leonard on that fast-break facial. If they call the "and-1" there and Leonard makes that free-throw, it's a seven-point lead and the Spurs get to set their defense.
Rough breaks for sure, but there's also the need for perspective. It's just hard to make a case that the outcome was unfair when so few guys played well for San Antonio. It wasn't the refs' fault that they missed eight of their last nine shots or that Leonard never shot the ball again between his slam and the four-point deficit with a couple ticks remaining.
Tony Parker picked a really unfortunate time to have his worst minute of the series. Right before the fateful call on Green, Parker missed a pull-up 19-footer that would've given the Spurs the lead. Even after the call on Green, the Spurs had the opportunity to tie it once more at the free-throw stripe themselves. Parker missed one of two. Then Green stole the ball from Durant and the Spurs had a chance to go ahead. Parker missed another jumper from the top of the key.
Is that piling on The Wee Frenchman? Maybe. He did break an 8-0 game-changing Thunder run, which flipped the score from what looked like a comfortable 88-82 Spurs lead after a hellacious Leonard slam on Westbrook's noggin with four minutes to go to a 90-88 deficit on Enes Kanter's tip-in with 1:45 remaining. Parker tied the game with a jumper ten seconds later, but it would be the final time the score was tied. The bottom line concerning Parker is he had nine points on 12 shots and you can only dress that up but so much.
And Parker was the best of the "Big Three" for what it's worth. Tim Duncan played a lot more in Game 5 in what very well might have been the final home game of his illustrious career than he had in the last previous two tilts in Oklahoma City, but he didn't have much to show for his 28:03 on the court, with just five points on 1-of-6 shooting and three rebounds. He chipped in with a couple of offensive boards in the fourth quarter but was just as powerless to hold off Adams and Kanter on the other end as David West and Boris Diaw have been.
Ginobili, meanwhile, also offered very little. He tossed in a three moments after checking into the game late in the first quarter but was a ghost from then on, attempting just three more shots and hardly every involving himself in the action. For the second consecutive season, he seems to have no juice left in his legs in the playoffs. Thunder defenders are playing him tight on the three-point line and there just doesn't seem to be a Plan B for him.
None of Ginobili's bench-mates offered any relief, either. Fellow graybeards West and Diaw shot 2-of-10 combined, while Patty Mills could only get free for four attempts in 15:47. Kyle Anderson had one rebound and nothing else on the stat sheet in 8:42, finishing -12 and causing Gregg Popovich to stomp around in fury after failing to hustle for a loose ball in the second quarter.
"We haven't had great bench production," said Pop afterward, adding "We need a couple more people to help us offensively. That'd be great."
Give the Thunder credit. No, seriously, I'm pretty much demanding you give them credit, right now, before you read the next sentence. Don't mumble it either, make it sincere. Those dudes are playing hard, man. They could've easily cashed it in down 13 midway through the third quarter, resigned themselves to a loss and thought about regrouping for Game 6. Instead, they fought back to cut it to three by the end of the quarter and then for the second straight game they outplayed the Spurs down the stretch, defying both their "choker" reputation and also that of the Spurs', as the smart, steady veteran team that knows how to close games in the clutch.
Westbrook was a monster all game and simply refused to be denied. He roared back after Leonard had practically tattooed Adam Silver's signature on his forehead to can a long two at the end of the shot clock to cut it to four, then had a fast break layup off Parker's miss to slice it to two and then rebounded his own miss and fed Kanter for the tying dunk to the dismay of the crowd. He finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists (and yes, 8 turnovers) and just completely took over late.
The Spurs mostly played well on defense, the one aspect of the game they could hang their hats on, as they have all season. They held the Thunder to 43.6 percent shooting, 35 percent from downtown and turned them over 20 times. They also turned it over just eight times themselves. There is just no way a home team should have a plus-12 edge in turnovers and still lose, but here we are. Popovich made a subtle tweak, putting Leonard on Andre Roberson during the meat of the game instead of Durant or Westbrook and letting him roam as a free safety, since Roberson doesn't require guarding. Leonard was able to wreak a lot of havoc this way, and it caused Billy Donovan to re-insert Dion Waiters. Donovan also played Kanter and Adams together down the stretch for the second straight game --a wholly disengaged Serge Ibaka kind of left him no choice-- and again that move paid off huge for him.
Still the Thunder finished with just 95 points. The Spurs and every other team in the league would take that against OKC no questions asked. They didn't lose because of their defense, or because of the refs. They lost because they couldn't score efficiently enough and were annihilated on the glass. Consider the disparity: The Spurs got offensive boards on 10 of their 53 misses, or 18.9 percent. The Thunder corralled 15 of their 44 misses, or 34.1 percent. On every third miss, they gave themselves another possession.
Even more damning for the Spurs was how miserable they shot from inside the three-point line, making just 27-of-70 (38.6 percent). All of the aforementioned were culprits sure, but we haven't mentioned Aldridge yet and my how the worm has turned for him over the course of the series, as he put up a 6-of-21 tonight. Such is life for a mid-range specialist. It looks dandy when they're going in, but there isn't much room for error in terms of efficiency when they're not. Aldridge is a very good player, a star even, but it's fair to consider that the Blazers never went very far with him and you have to wonder if he can make teammates better on nights where his shot isn't falling.
There is a bright side to all of this, believe it or not.
One thing --perhaps the only thing-- that's been established in this series is that it's not 2012 or 2014. The teams are dead even and home court means nothing. If anything, neither team is good enough or deep enough offensively to jump on the other, Game 1's anomaly aside. These teams can't separate from one another and they're both resilient enough defensively to make runs.
Going in you figured there'd be one game where Westbrook went nuts and one game where Durant did. We've now gotten those out of the way. As long as both teams play a game where the individual performances fall in line to expectations, the Spurs are still the favorites on paper. Of course, that means getting a better game from the bench, either with one guy going off or all of them collectively stepping up.
And who knows, maybe the refs will have some subconscious inclination to give them a few calls down the stretch next game.
Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's Last 2 Minutes report pic.twitter.com/6lDiXo0jWJ— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 11, 2016
As long as I don't mention that the Thunder franchise haven't blown a 3-2 series lead in the playoffs since I was born, everything will be fine.
Your Three Stars:
1) Kawhi Leonard
2) Danny Green
3) Tony Parker