What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Tonight's victory might very well be the defining moment of the Thunder team's growth so far as a young championship contender. Last season's run was swell, and the triple-overtime win against the Grizzlies in Game 4 of the Western Conference semi's might be as significant from a sheer perseverance perspective, but those Grizzlies were not these Spurs. Plucky fighters they, but not skilled at the same level of basketball as this incarnation of San Antonio.
What makes this win more significant than the Game 3 win which halted the Spurs' winning streak? In my opinion it was the fact that this was the game the Spurs HAD to have. It was to be the game where they were to hold their home court advantage, regain their confidence, push back against the Thunder surge, and prove once and for all that they were the masters of this realm. That is the way it is supposed to be.
And yet, OKC took the 1-2 combo punches in the Spurs' home stadium, withstood the pressure, the home crowd, Manu Ginobili in a starting role, an assist deficit, a rebounding deficit, and superior shooting by the Spurs' marksmen and everything else that was rising against them, and they pushed back and held their ground in the Hot Gates.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
The Thunder won the game in the 3rd quarter. Over the course of the season, we have seen a number of times where the Thunder came out flat in the 2nd half and had embarrassingly poor 3rd quarters (the last two games vs the Clippers come to mind) that sunk them. For whatever reason, they could not execute good offense, and as a result the other team recovered and surged ahead.
OKC led most of the 1st half and went into the break up by 8. They had held the high-scoring Spurs to only 44 1st half points, and once again the defense was doing a number on the Spurs. We knew that a run was coming, and it would be a run that challenged OKC's resolve to stay and fight even when the fight went bad.
As opposed to Game 4, the Spurs' Game 5 surge came in the first half of the 3rd quarter. The Spurs went from down 8 to up 6 with under 6 minutes to play largely on the back of Ginobili, and it appeared that we were in for a repeat of the ending of Game 1. However, just like at the end of Game 4, the Thunder put the ball in the hands of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and the duo went to work. Scoring in a myriad of ways, the two brought the Thunder back from the cusp of collapse and reversed the flow of the game. Over the final 4:30 of the quarter, the Thunder limited the Spurs to only 3 free throws while reclaiming the lead.
When Durant hit a buzzer beater to close out the 3rd completely erased the Spurs' recovery attempt, OKC had the look in their eyes that they knew the Spurs were just about out of time and chances.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
Once again, turnovers told the story of the game. While both teams were quite sloppy in holding onto the ball, the Spurs were the worse culprits by turning it over 21 times overall. Specifically, the Spurs' two primary ball handlers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were the culprits, each turning it over 5 times. Even though Parker managed to score 20 points on the night, he continued to look completely flustered on offense as OKC consistently pushed him sideways and prohibited him from finding his driving lanes. Parker has now turned the ball over 17 times in these 5 games.
Ginobili had a huge night scoring the ball, totaling 34 points on the night and was instrumental in giving San Antonio its 3rd quarter lead. However he too has had a huge spate of turnovers, totaling 20 over these 5 games. Ginobili at least more than made up for the turnovers with his points and 7 assists, but therein lies the problem these Spurs are having. In the normal course of their winning streak, they did not have to 'make up' for bad turnover nights. Without the anchor of turnovers, their offensive output was enhanced all the more because of the incremental extra possessions they had against every other team. Against OKC though, those additional possessions are nowhere to be found, and the Spurs do not have a good enough defense to take the ball back and balance things out.
Also, I'd like to make a special note to Daequan Cook here. Cook has been by and large the forgotten man on the OKC bench, much to my chagrin. I think the team has wasted a great shooting talent in Daequan, but this is the way they have gone. For 4 minutes though, Cook provided a huge spark on the night that helped the Thunder push their lead. In the 2nd quarter, Cook sprang for 8 points off of 3-3 shooting, including two 3-pointers. I had a feeling that Cook would have a moment in this series, and there it was in the 1st half of tonight's game. I can only hope there will be more opportunities for him.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The Thunder are a win away from the NBA Finals.
In other words, OKC is about to have the kitchen sink thrown at them in Game 6. To be sure, the Thunder will be at home, in front of their home crowd and sensing the end is within reach. However, even though it might seem like this would be the moment to stay relaxed, that is precisely what the Spurs will be anticipating. OKC must continue to play over-aggressive defense, force the Spurs into uncharacteristic mistakes, produce points, and take the win. Nothing will be handed to them.
There will be moments where OKC might seem to have the game in the bag, and those are the exact points against which Scott Brooks must protect his team. There were several games this season (vs the Rockets in particular) where OKC relaxed with but a few minutes to go, and they were stunned in the end by hot shooting and inopportune mental lapses. OKC must play wire to wire in Game 6 if they want to prevail.
"Give them nothing. Take from them everything."
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 27 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 1 block
Thunder Down Under: James Harden, 20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 HUGE 3-point dagger in the 4th quarter
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, whose early foul trouble limited his play to only 9 points and 5 rebounds
Thunder Plunderer: Manu Ginobili, 34 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals
Next Game: Wednesday, 8:00 PM Central Standard Time