The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the San Antonio Spurs in game 5, 95-91. Behind the 4th quarter energy of Russell Westbrook and once again a stout defensive performance by OKC, the Thunder have won their second consecutive game in San Antonio, a place where the Spurs had lost only once the entire regular season. As a result, the Thunder now take a 3-2 series lead back home to OKC with a chance to close out the series in game 6.
If the ending to game 4 was a return to the Thunder's own version of 'beautiful basketball' - i.e. Kevin Durant scoring binges - then game 5 was the Russell Westbrook experience once again. If game 3 was the dark side of the moon for Westbrook, game 5 was a bit of brain damage. After a sloppy first half where Westbrook committed 6 turnovers, it appeared that those mistakes caught up to the Thunder in the 3rd quarter when they fell behind by 13 midway through. Without Durant's shooting this time out, the Thunder had to rely on Westbrook to create offense. Just like he did in game 4, Westbrook switched into playmaker mode and had 3 assists and 6 points in the quarter to keep OKC within striking distance. He also did this:
Westbrook is relentless pic.twitter.com/fl87EN2yTk— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 11, 2016
Recovered but still trailing by 3 entering the 4th, Westbrook led the way again, finishing the quarter with 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, which included this shot clock-beating bomb:
Even with Westbrook's effort, the Thunder still found themselves down 6 with 4 minutes remaining. Westbrook again answered the bell by knocking down a deep 2-pointer, raced full court for a lay-up after everyone stopped play following what could have been a Spurs shot clock violation, and then lastly grabbed an offensive rebound after his own miss to feed Enes Kanter for the lay in, tying things up again. Finally, with the Thunder up by 1 point and having to inbound the ball yet again with the game on the line, this crazy thing happened:
RUSS. WESTBROOK. pic.twitter.com/oYIqYxwbLZ— Complex Sports (@Complex_Sports) May 11, 2016
Apparently this series can't finish any game without something ridiculous happening. Call it the "Waiters inbounds effect." This time, Waiters looked off Durant, who is always a good candidate to shoot free throws, and instead led Westbrook, who was being blanketed by Kawhi Leonard. Leonard pretty clearly gave the intentional foul to put Westbrook on the line, but the refs did not blow the whistle.
And Westbrook, being the fellow that he is, decided to not simply run more time off the clock, but instead attacked the rim, which earned him the and-1 opportunity after a weak foul by LaMarcus Aldridge. Westbrook's 3-point play effectively ended things and sends OKC back home with a chance to pull off a major upset.
1) A Westbrook game tends to consume almost every capacity to think straight, but it is important to note that, once again, the Thunder defense came to play. Even though they trailed for most of the 2nd half, the Spurs never put together one of their crippling runs, but instead were held to under 40% shooting from the floor. This was critical for the Thunder defense because the Spurs only committed 7 turnovers on the night (compared to OKC's 20) and San Antonio finally had some success beyond the arc, hitting 8-18 from long range. The Thunder bigs - Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Serge Ibaka - have played the long game and the Spurs interior is wearing down. They won the rebounding battle, 54-36, and Aldridge in particular missed several wide open jump shots which proved to be costly in the final moments of play.
2) Enes Kanter scored all 8 of his points in the 2nd half, including a clutch put-back off a Durant miss that gave OKC their first lead in the 4th quarter at 90-88. Kanter played 30 minutes on the night and his confidence and contribution continues to grow, especially when paired with 'Stache Bro Adams.
3) The Thunder bench only contributed 20 points on the night, but once again, Waiters was a net positive and Randy Foye hit a huge 3 at the end of the 3rd to keep OKC in range to complete their comeback.
The series is far from over, but the Thunder have shown they possess a resolve that many questioned this season. One more game needed to prove that it is for real and to pull off the upset.
Game 6 is scheduled for Thursday, May 12th, at 7:30PM CDT in OKC.