Oklahoma City Thunder 108, San Antonio Spurs 103: Thunder sieze the moment

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AT&T CENTER–The adjustment by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was simple in theory; insert Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup in hopes of reigniting a staggering team.

Force the dynamic defensive tandem of Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka to decide which of the Spurs two elite playmakers to contend with by pairing Ginobili and Tony Parker together for as much time as possible.

For a moment it even worked. Ginobili’s presence in the starting lineup imbued the opening minutes with a frenetic chaos and pace the Spurs thrived on. Between twisting drives, threaded-needle passing, and out of nowhere steals, Ginobili almost singlehandedly willed the Spurs to a fast start with seven first quarter points and three assists.

But when push comes to shove between two great teams–and these are two great teams–the answers aren’t necessarily in the game-to-game adjustments. The Oklahoma City Thunder eventually adapted, settling the pace once the second units began to trickle in, and taking a first quarter lead.

“Changes take a little bit of time to adjust to,” Ginobili said. “But not many times when two great teams play against each other do X’s and O’s make the difference.”

Sometimes resolve simply comes from big players in big moments.

Behind a resurgent 11-point fourth quarter from Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs had managed to cut a double-digit deficit to two points in the closing seconds. His team reeling, James Harden found himself, ball in hands, against both the shot clock and formidable reach of Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard.

With a quick series of dance steps from left-to-right-and-back, Harden created just enough separation from Leonard to unsheathe a dagger of a three-pointer.

“The play was for Kevin [Durant] and the shot clock was going down, that is why I had to make a play,” Harden said. “I think Kawhi Leonard was playing very good defense on me and I just had to make a shot. I just went back to my mechanics and the ball with confidence and it went in.”

Harden’s three-pointer to extend the Thunder’s lead to five with less than 30 seconds left was the stuff of legends. It was Derek Fisher and 0.4. It was Manu Ginobili fouling Dirk Nowitzki as he barreled towards the lane down three. It was Robert Horry doing any number of things that Robert Horry used to do.

In short, it was the kind of improbable shot that comes to define championship runs.

“Bottom line, every season we won the championship we’ve had situations like that,” Ginobili said of Harden’s shot. “And every season we lost, we had those too.”

These San Antonio Spurs will have at least one more opportunity to find a defining moment of their own, if only because they have proven time and again they will not go down without a fight.

Sloppy play and a listless bench made quarters two and three as frustrating as any the San Antonio Spurs had experienced all year. Between Sefolosha and Ibaka, the Thunder have concocted a mixture of length and athleticism that has rendered Tony Parker wildly mediocre to the tune of five turnovers and 5-of-14 shooting.

With Ginobili accounting for five turnovers of his own, the Spurs surrendered 21 turnovers and 28 easy points to a team capable of scoring just as many difficult ones.

“You can’t turn it over 21 times for 28 points against a team that good,” Popovich said. “I thought we spotted them 24  minutes. I didn’t think we competed very well in the first half, and that’s not good enough against a team as good as they are.”

Only the bright play of Manu Ginobili (34 points, seven assists), like a candle flickering valiantly against a heavy wind, kept the Spurs within arms’ reach of the Thunder heading into the fourth quarter before Harden’s shot seemingly extinguished them for good.

Following a Ginobili layup, Kawhi Leonard was able to use his own considerable reach to deflect a pass off Sefolosha and out of bounds after the Spurs were able to successfully trap Durant in the backcourt. But the Thunder had the Spurs ensuing inbounds play well-scouted, keeping stride-for-stride with Manu Ginobili as he curled off a series of baseline screens, eventually settling for a desperation heave.

“[The shot was] not as open as we wanted, but at least I let it fly,” Ginobili said. “It wasn’t a great shot, but it wasn’t a bad one either. It just didn’t go in.”

Sometimes for all the adjustments in the world, these are the biggest differences in the game.

  • Titletown99030507d

    It kinda screwed Blair for a while. Huh?

  • Titletown99030507d

    It would be a nice time to show up. I’ll hand it to Neal he will shoot more than Bonner that’s for sure. 

  • Titletown99030507d

    Is he scoring 20+ in every game?

  • Titletown99030507d

    I would too they way the calls are going. Why does Perkins get to put hands on our post up guys and Fisher get ghost calls as well as Westbrook backing in to Tony for petty calls like that when he’s the instigator. We want some of that action too.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Since your the one that edited this video take a close look at the reach in hand that same hand hit Tony’s left hand  that’s why he was holding his hand in pain and was just trying to get the ref’s attention as to the slap of his hand- not the ball handling hand. Got to try everything or your not trying. Hope this changes soon. NBA needs a new small market darling and the ref’s are obliging. But the Spurs are going to put two games to them and send home to watch the Spurs on TV in the finals. Bye, Bye.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Who said anything about sweep? Don’t put words in my mouth speak for yourself. I’m talking about winning a series because they are very capable of doing it. Being up 3-2 would be better than being down 3 -2 is any of that a sweep? 

  • Titletown99030507d

    Jimbo do you know what sarcasm is?

  • Titletown99030507d

    They why did it take Minn to pick a gazillion pt guards before they got smart and realized there were 4 other positions to draft for?

  • Titletown99030507d

    Who’s talking about tanking at this point? Way back when Manu went out I wasn’t in the war room when they were thinking of getting Diaw, Jackson, and Mills. Without them then it would have been futile to press on and I would have settled for a nice  ping pong pick but instead they did what a front office was supposed to do in order to be competitive in the latter stages of this season. Two different scenarios. 

  • Len

    What kind of bubble do YOU live in?  Harden and Westbrook have kicked their legs out during jump shots and then fallen down AT LEAST a dozen times this series.  

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yeah he took care of that and booted Bob Hill out when DRob was hurt all season and they got a nice ping pong ball out of that. Don’t tell me Pop didn’t see it coming. That’s stabbing someone in the back while no one’s looking. Nice one Pop.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Pop was in a pretty situation to steal a ping pong ball and begin his legacy at the hands of Bob Hill. Set himself nicely with a # PICK IN TIM DUNCAN any good coach who had him could have done the same. Pop isn’t special. It’s the players that play the game and apparently his psychology major is doing nothing for them at this point. It will be the players that get thru this series not the coach. Take a look at the expression at the top of this thread. That’s a coach that doesn’t have any answers.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Buford gets paid for putting teams together as well don’t give all the credit to Pop. and I’m not giving all the credit to Pop.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Man do you live here and support the Spurs the way I do? I can say whatever the f$%K I want about this team. I’m spending my money on them and have a right to call out the coach if I want to. 

  • Titletown99030507d

    And I’ll keep doing it till he leaves.

  • Titletown99030507d

    My Spurs (as in the players) are capable of going to the next level. Did you notice I said Spurs and players NYC?

  • Titletown99030507d

    He and Manu. I’ll give you that.

  • Tyler

    Hard to argue it wasn’t the right move. Simply look at the results – Pop has proven to be one of the 4-5 best coaches of all time, while Hill has never stuck anywhere.

    Plus, it’s hard to say he stabbed Hill in the back – neither of us are/were privy to the inner workings of the organization at the time.

  • Tyler

    But why? You’re arguing it would be the right move to get rid of the best coach in the game? Who better would you get to replace him? How does that make us a better team or organization?

    That makes zero sense on any level.

    “Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s get rid of one of our best, most productive, forward-thinking employees! That’s the ticket! 

  • Patrick Chewing

    Usually when you make a statement with capital “YOU” it implies irony.  That my initial retort was accusing you of living in a bubble, and your capitalized stress of the word you would indicate I’m being hypocritical.  I never said you lived in a bubble.  I simply told you why people hate the spurs.  It’s easy to hate floppers.  It’s easy to hate whiny europeans.  It’s easy to like humble, talented athletes like KD and Harden, who play the game the right way, and win the right way.

    A side note about kicking legs out on jumpers…
    If you’ve ever played at a high level of basketball, you might understand that when you elevate for a jumper and a defender closes fast when you are in the air, the natural reaction is to alter your body in order to not land on their feet and risk an ankle sprain.  

    If you happened to record any of the games, you can look back and see harden and wb get up promptly after they fall to get back on D.  For the most part there isn’t any complaining to the refs (Westbrook can be an offender at times).  Absolutely nothing compared to the whiny acting of Parker and friends.  Falling to the ground, untouched, and grabbing your hand.  Not your wrist…or an ankle, but your hand…if in fact for some reason you do hurt a finger, that shouldn’t stop you from getting up and getting back on D. Euro guards are soft…especially the ones playing for the Spurs.  It was especially gratifying to watch Chuck, Ernie and Co. point that play out post game with a “come on Tony, you’re better than that”.  Problem is, I’m just not sure he is better than that.

  • theghostofjh

    First point disagree. Second point agree.

  • theghostofjh

    “ie. Manu slamming on the breaks at the start of a transition break to purposely get a defender to run into him.)”

    Don’t act like an idiot, that’s not a flop. Every analyst that follows the sport will tell you that that was a smart move within the rules.

    The rest of your comment is too silly for me to even waste my time on. Take out your frustrations on some other blog. Will ya?!?  

  • theghostofjh

    Andrew, Jesse, Tim and Co. Can we limit the trolling? This is getting obnoxious heading in to a key game six. Thanks.

  • theghostofjh

    My, aren’t we counting the chickens before they hatch.

  • theghostofjh

    Yup, that’s the key. Can we get a handle on these turnovers.

  • Len

    “If you’ve ever played at a high level of basketball, you might understand that when you elevate for a jumper and a defender closes fast when you are in the air, the natural reaction is to alter your body in order to not land on their feet and risk an ankle sprain.”
    It cracks me up when trolls try to somehow take the high road.  There is nothing natural about kicking your leg out and falling down when shooting a jumper.  Defenders are usually closing out hard on jump shooters and thankfully, it rarely happens.  It is an obvious attempt at flopping.  

    I mean seriously, you can’t come up with anything better than that? 

    Now go back to your hubble under a bridge somewhere.  

  • Johnshaft3d

    Titletown99030507d,  tell the truth.  You are Bob Hill.

  • Patrick Chewing

    Apparently this is a self-help group for Spurs fans only.  Hi, my name’s theghostofjh…and I’m an irrational Spurs fan.  Please, only supporters of my thinking make comments because my fragile ego is directly correlated to how the Spurs perform on the court…get over yourself.

  • Patrick Chewing

    I love it when you try and justify losing several games in a row by one call.  At the end of the day the bad calls tend to even out.  

  • theghostofjh

    Apparently you enjoy acting like a moron. Go act stupid someplace else.

  • theghostofjh

    One call? How about a dozen calls, at least. This officiating was anything but even. Not even close. Game six was even worse, particularly in the 4th quarter. This was an absolute crime. Grand theft. The league and their officials need to be investigated.

  • Patrick Chewing

    Andrew, Jesse, Mommy, Daddy, can you please kick him out?  He’s not playing nice.  Grow up.

  • theghostofjh

    There are rules. Your Mommy & Daddy obviously taught you to flout them. Obnoxious trolls are not allowed on fan blogs.

  • Patrick Chewing

    The rules?  Freedom of speech has been in place a loooong time.

  • theghostofjh

    This is a proprietary website. They can ban any visitor they want for anything they say in the comment section that is against their policy. Trolling is, and should be, at the top of the list. Are you really that clueless? 

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