The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves on the brink of elimination yet again after getting blown out by the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5, 117-89.
It's the second time this postseason the Thunder finds themselves in this position, after falling behind 3-2 to Memphis in the opening round.
It came by way of yet another blowout, just as did Games 1-4 of the Western Conference Finals. The thinking was that with the Thunder getting Serge Ibaka back, the Spurs had no way of scoring at the rim, and Games 3 & 4 reflected that. In fact, those results caused the Spurs to respect Ibaka's interior presence enough to alter their starting lineup. San Antonio went with Matt Bonner in place of Tiago Splitter to start, with the thinking that it would keep Ibaka away from the inside and stop that dominant Ibaka rim protection.
It worked as planned.
The Thunder hung around throughout a high-scoring first quarter, with both teams scoring at will and neither finding much defensive resistance, a stark contrast to the Ibaka-dominated Games 3 & 4.
After being tied 32-32 after one, the Spurs did what the Thunder did the previous two games - they outran and outworked their opponent, which, more importantly, led to them executing their way through the Thunder.
The Spurs outscored the Thunder 62-42 in the middle frames, essentially ending it right there after three quarters. The Thunder put forth a halfhearted comeback attempt to start the fourth, but a 7-2 run to start for the Spurs put a quick stop to that, as the Thunder took a page from the Spurs' book and rested the starters while conceding the game.
The Spurs had their typical balanced production, with six guys finishing in double figures. Tim Duncan was a force inside, dropping 22 points on 8-13 shooting and 12 rebounds. Manu Ginobili continued his scorching series, going 7-9 for 19 points and adding six assists. And while Bonner got the start, it was Boris Diaw that played the stretch-4 role that challenged the Thunder defense. Diaw scored 13 on 4-7 shooting, including 2-2 from three.
Altogether, it amounted to the Spurs getting back to doing what they did in the first two wins, regardless of whether Ibaka was in there or not: getting into the paint, and creating from there with layups or passes to open shooters.
For the Thunder, they got hardly any production outside of the usual suspects. Kevin Durant had his usual quiet 25, Russell Westbrook had 21, and Reggie Jackson was the only other guy in double figures with 11, all of which came in the first quarter for him.
It seemed ridiculous after Game 4 for Gregg Popovich to essentially just say his team needed to play better and they'd be fine. That's why he's the Coach of the Year, though, because that's what it boiled down to. Sure, there were the adjustments, but the change in mentality is really all it took.
For the Thunder, it's going to be the same message: Play better. They've shown they're good enough, particularly on their home floor, and if they can take care of business there, it's anything-can-happen in Game 7.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
This series is really weird. Charles Barkley said it after the game, and he's seen way more than me, but I can't remember ever seeing a series where the teams have played so differently at home than away. Tim Duncan said after the game it's the weirdest series he's ever been a part of. It's a good sign for OKC for Game 6, but as was preached after the last game, the Spurs still maintain homecourt advantage, so that's just more reassurance there.
It's a shame to see the Thunder look so terrible again, because it feels like all of the progress and momentum of Games 3 and 4 are dead and gone. But it's becoming more and more clear that momentum doesn't mean much in this series. It's going to come down to which team wants it more. KD and Westbrook both didn't seem to hit that extra gear tonight, and the bench was downright useless, scoring just 26 points, 13 of which came in garbage time in the fourth.
The Thunder will need a better team effort, from their stars on down. They've had their backs to the wall before in this devastatingly good Western Conference, now it's a matter of fighting back once more.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
Not playing good basketball. Shooting? The Spurs shot 53 percent to OKC's 43. Rebounding? The Spurs outrebounded OKC 48-35. Being aggressive and getting to the line? The Spurs, a team that hardly ever takes free throws, got to the line 30 times to OKC's 20. And it wasn't because of poor officiating or anything, it was just the Spurs being more aggressive. Plus, I already mentioned the lopsided bench play.
Add it up, and the Thunder were worse in literally every facet of the game. But again, they were better in pretty much all those areas in Games 3 & 4, This series is really weird in how evenly lopsided it is.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The Spurs' bench outscored the Thunder's 51-26, and 36-13 in the first three quarters before garbage time. That's a recipe for disaster, especially when KD and Russ are good and not great. Those rebounding numbers also tell the tale, because they illustrate how the Spurs were more aggressive up and down their entire roster.
The Thunder also dominated the fastbreak battle in Game 4, outscoring the Spurs 21-0, with the Spurs attemtping zero shots on the break. Tonight? Completely switched, withe Spurs outscoring the Thunder 14-4 on the break.
I realize it's not much analysis to keep saying the same thing over and over, but look at all of those stats, and just see how much better the Spurs were. There's really not much beyond that. The Spurs created opportunities for themselves with their defense, created even more with their offensive rebounding (10 of those) and shot the ball incredibly well.
A lot should be pinned on the Thunder defense, whose effort simply wasn't there. To the Thunder's credit, they actually won the turnover battle, turning it over just 11 times to the Spurs 12. That's a great number for OKC, but they were not nearly as effective at turning those opportunities into any sort of easy points on the other end.
It's definitely concerning that the Spurs seemed unfazed by Ibaka's presence all of a sudden, and even though they only scored 40 points in the paint, they were able to get inside more easily and suck in the OKC defense more than they had been in the previous two games - freeing up outside shooters and just creating more space in general.
Again, it comes down to aggressiveness, and the Spurs had more of it, which they channeled much in the way Westbrook was able to in Game 4, to completely dismantle the Thunder defense from inside out.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
I supposed I'll use this space to talk about the one storyline Thunder fans will certainly dwell on, which of course deals with Jeremy Lamb. After using Lamb in each of the past two games, it turns out both instances were likely spurred on by injuries (Fisher in Game 3, Jackson in Game 4). After playing effectively in both of those games, Lamb was not used in the first half, as Brooks went with his usual Butler/Fisher duo off the bench - which got torched. Fisher couldn't keep up with Ginobili, and Butler couldn't hit an open shot, just another case of the bench giving absolutely zero support.
Brooks did turn to Lamb off the bench in the second half, with the deficit at 14, but perhaps as a recognition that he still has value in this series.
That's just one thing to look forward to, but to defend Brooks a bit, Lamb wasn't exactly lights out in his minutes tonight. Yes, the game was largely decided by the time he got in, but its just worth noting that just using Lamb isn't likely to magically solve the Thunder's numerous issues tonight.
Still, with how little Butler and Fisher provided, it's something Brooks will most certainly keep in mind for Game 6, as Lamb was incredibly effective in his minutes in Games 3 and 4.
And that's really the takeaway from this game. If this were a prizefight, it would be the most entertaining boxing match in history. Both coaches continue to counter with impressive haymakers. Brooks countered in Games 3 and 4 with Jackson (and Lamb to an extent) and Popovich tonight with the Bonner thing. You see the dramatic results each adjustment has had.
Both coaches are making moves, which Brooks deserves credit for, as he has answered the Jedi Pop once already this series. Game 6 will be his chance to throw one more haymaker, and hopefully set this one up for a Game 7.
- Reggie Jackson looks great early on. UNLEASH THE PED ALLEGATIONS.
- That play when Kawhi got the steal and then Westbrook came flying back to steal it right back? So, so Russell.
- On Reggie's big first quarter: The Spurs switched Leonard on to Westbrook, hoping to slow him down and hide Parker on Jackson. Tons of credit to Jackson for taking that matchup to heart and absolutely punishing the Spurs for it. That's some grownup, big-time play there.
- More Russell being Russell:
- The Spurs finished the first quarter hitting their last seven shots, almost all of which coming with Nick Collison in the game. Still, the game was following right along with all the rest, going back and forth for the first quarter. The middle quarters are the ones where the teams' have made their runs.
- Sneaky great pass from Steven Adams to feed Fisher for a corner three. Then terrific one-on-one defense on Duncan on the other end. Obligatory "he's only 20!" mention.
- Caron Butler bringing nothing off the bench once again. Missed open three, then travel on consecutive possession. Meanwhile. Jeremy Lamb.
- Of course he gets fouled on a 3-pointer as I type that. It's his best move!
- Huge 3-pointer from Westbrook with OKC down nine and looking like SA wanted to pull away. Fearless. Fearlessbrook? (should I let myself out?)
- Of course Westbrook hits that 3-pointer just before half. Almost single-handedly kept them in it. Check his first half line: 15 points on 5-8 shooting, six assists, three rebounds.
- Also, OKC down 10 at half, but the Spurs were EVERYWHERE that entire 24-minute stretch. Interested to see if they can keep it up for an entire game.
- Well, it sure looks like it's going to. Spurs are playing like Ibaka isn't even there. And it's working.
- It took a 14-point deficit for Scott Brooks to go to Jeremy Lamb. This guy!
- With the Spurs pulling away in the third, I thought "KD's been quiet." Turns out he had 20 points on 9-15 shooting. I'm spoiled.
- Way too many offensive rebounds for the Spurs. None of the physicality we saw from OKC in Games 3 & 4.
- Reggie Miller and Steve Kerr seemed legitimately upset at one another in the third quarter. Like, they may have fought after the game. Maybe the most entertaining part of the game.
- Danny Green is that guy in pickup you refuse to respect because he shouldn't be any good. And then... he does this.
- That's now all five games that have featured 20-point leads from one of the teams. Wonder when the last time that happened?
- Well, per the TNT broadcast, the last time the first fives games of a conference finals were decided by nine or more points was 1992 between the Bulls and Cavs. So there's that.
- This is even more awful than the game itself.
MANUFICENT pic.twitter.com/Z0IaaYehiT— Jason Gallagher (@jga41agher) May 30, 2014
- And this:
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant - 25 points (11-21 shooting), 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook - 21 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds
Thunder Blunder: The entire Thunder bench - 26 points (37.0% shooting)
Thunder Plunderer: Manu Ginobili - 19 points (7-9 shooting), 6 assists, 4 rebounds
Next game: vs. San Antonio Spurs for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on Saturday, May 31 at 7:30 PM CDT