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

by

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.

  • Spinetrine38

    I love it how everyone is blaming the coach right now.  No doubt if the coaches switched teams, POP would coach the Thunder to a 5 game (maybe even sweep) of a Brooks coached Spurs team.  What POP does with the ageing roster full of late 1st round draft picks and other teams throwaways, is beyond impressive.  At some point in time you have to realize, that the players play the game.  The coaches give them a plan, but its the player’s job to execute it.  I can guarantee you that the last play your talking about was a play that included 3-4 options and from there, a coach has to trust his players that they will read the correct options and find the best shot.

    You’re saying that POP is getting out coached…you’re wrong.  The Spur’s players…Tim Duncan, Manu, Parker, are getting out-played.  There’s only so much that coaching can make up for the gap that lies between the current talent and athletic ability of the Spurs players, to that of the Thunder.  POP’s working with what he’s got, and exceeding expectations left and right.

  • Spinetrine38

    Haha, wow you deleted my comments..surprise surprise.  Have fun in your flop-loving bubble.  Crazy you can’t accept a un-biased, non-spurs fan’s opinion.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Yup, I deleted your comment because I prefer to keep foul language out of the comments. And since I pull the strings behind the scenes, I get what I want. All your other comments are still around so it has nothing to do with being unwilling to broadcast dissenting opinions.

  • http://twitter.com/jimmy_frich Jimothy Pimwell

    Talk about OKC and their greatness all you want, but the fact of the matter is that we gave it away in games 3, 4, and 5. Why are we the best team? Because we’re loaded with crafty veterans and explosive role players. Now it’s natural for role players to panic and take bad shots and play hero ball in the postseason. But not with this team, not in this postseason. It’s natural for at least one of the big three to have an off night once in a while. But not two out of three for three games straight (and it could be argued that in at least one of those games NONE of the big three showed up). We are supposed to beat the Thunder because we’ve been here before, because we have a system. Stick with the system for four quarters and you will score 110+ points no matter how many threes Bonner and Neal brick. In game three we ran the system for about two-three minutes. I didn’t watch game 4 because I had a bad feeling. In game 5 we ran the system for pretty much the first five minutes and the last 10, and it wasn’t enough. I haven’t seen effort, I haven’t seen hustle. This is a team built around seeming invincible, and just like last year, once that aura vanishes, suddenly the mystique is gone and we see what we truly have. Which is a young, immature team led by three former stars a few years past their prime. What it really all comes down to is that if this team plays well, plays two solid games in games 6 and 7, there is almost no chance for the Thunder to win. If we continue to play mediocre, cringworthy, disgusting Danny Green fadeaway jumper ball, we will lose. Tony Parker… all Spurs fans calling Tony Parker… where did you disappear to Tony? 

  • Lvmainman

    The Thunder might have better talent, but I haven’t see any indication that they have a better basketball TEAM.

    In this last game, the Spurs had more assists, more points in the paint, and more fastbreak points, but lost. That doesn’t say to me that the Thunder are a better team.

    I’ve watched b-ball for 20 years and NEVER have I seen a HOME TEAM in the bonus with 9:44 left in the qtr NEVER shoot a FT for the rest of the qtr. That doesn’t say to me that the Thunder are a better team.

    The Thunder have scored the Spurs by 19 pts but only have 1 more assist. That doesn’t say to me that the Thunder are a better team.

    The Thunder might have won 3 out of 5 games, but they haven’t done anything visually or statistically to say that the Thunder are a better team.

    Something puzzling is going on.

  • Irontalon

     Cause bottom feeding has totally worked out for Charlotte and their gobs of number 1 draft picks…….oh wait….

  • Irontalon

     Call me crazy, but I want to see a big dose of Jackson tomorrow. Start him at 4 even, it’s not like Ibaka is a back to the basket post player anyway. He is the one guy who has every bit as much intensity as the Thunder right now and god if only the rest of the team can feed of what he brings. I just can’t get it out of my head he’s the spark that will win or lose game 6 for us. Slide Neal in at 2 just to keep our nuclear weapon that is Manu with the 2nd team.

    Plus perhaps a Splitter/Diaw/(Leonard or Jax in extended minutes)/Manu (as primary ballhandler)/Green lineup can not crap the bed when the bench comes up.

    God at least I want to see some fire from our guys for 48 minutes this game. Just like Pop said, if they compete for the full 4 frames good things will happen.

  • http://twitter.com/jimmy_frich Jimothy Pimwell

    I would agree with you, but to me it seems that it’s not necessarily Pop changing the system and making weird play calls as it is the players fumbling around looking confused, standing around with the ball, and generally perverting the system with low IQ plays. Why is Green not playing anymore? Because Pop recognized that after games 1 and 2 he stopped working within the system. What is Pop supposed to do? He did what he was supposed to do this year, he gave everyone minutes, he kept everyone fresh, everyone battle-tested The spurs have rolled through the league this year because Parker stepped up his passing and distribution. The Thunder have taken that away, and frankly, I haven’t even seen a single post on here proposing a change Pop should make, other than you and TD saying we just need to run more PnR. Oh well…now I’m sad. It seems ridiculous that we are going to lose this series on execution. We were supposed to be threatened by the Thunder’s athleticism, by their explosiveness, by their youth. Not by their execution. I guess we’ll have to take consolation from being the only team to take them to 6 games this postseason after they sweep the Heat.

  • Bushka

    I don’t think Brooks has been a good coach all year, but i think the thunder as a team have learned from the way the spurs play and actually improved markedly this series.

    Pop didn’t turn the ball over 21 times.  The turnovers not the rotations are raping us this series you cannot turn the ball over 20 times in conference finals and we’re approaching that number with alarming regularity.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Worked out for us. Nobody drafts better than the Spurs organization when it comes to #1 picks. Big Dave and Timeh. It’s because they are amateurs when it comes to building teams. The Spurs front office aren’t amateurs. I guess you haven’t noticed.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Make sure Jackson doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger because lately there’s a lot that going around. Saw it in game 5 when he pulled back and passed off when he should have just took the shot. Lately they aren’t passing the ball off because they’re covered they’re passing it off because they’re scared to shoot. That has to change. 

  • Titletown99030507d

    Like I said Manu’s the only one that brings it whether he misses or not he’s always going balls out. And what if Neal’s throwing up bricks why not throw Mills in for a minute to jack up 2 or 3 arc shots. I know he’ll make them.

  • Titletown99030507d

    That’s why the Spurs need to have better perimeter shooting to bring some of those defensive big guys further  out of the paint. Turnovers and clanking the rim not a good recipe for winning.

  • Titletown99030507d

    The last 3 games have been more like a half court game with no lane or rim in sight. Ever since they moved Sef on Parker everything has slowed down. And how do you think you can fix that? Tony has to out run him and beat him for 48 minutes. A tall order but it can be done.

  • Titletown99030507d

    No your delusional because those two wins in game 1 and 2 were not a mirage they were real games in which they executed with precision when, Danny, Neal, Manu, and Parker were making shots no different than from the long win streak they were on. Turnovers tend to happen when your behind in points at least that’s what it looks like in games 3, 4, and 5 and if your turning the ball over and can’t buy a frikin shot because your shooting in desperation and there’s no execution on the floor guess what? Yeah they lose. Get real dude they could also use a little help from Bonner who again lost in the playoffs with no GPS. 

  • Irontalon

    Getting value picks in the mid draft is skill. Picking a Tim Duncan is a lucky ping pong ball bounce and an obvious choice. Was Cleveland savvy picking LBJ? Its having the right player come up when your time is up. We have the best front office in the business, but tanking to get picks is a poor poor choice and would not do this franchise justice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Paterson/100000762584235 John Paterson

    Well the Thunder will break the press if they are pressed.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Overachieved my ass. They executed with precision for most of those 48 minutes in those first two games.  Yeah the way Pop showed them to do. Your going to make me believe that they forgot how to execute basic fundamental basketball? Either they are lazy or don’t care what Pop says anymore. Because that’s what it looks like. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be doing what they did in the first two games. I don’t buy that overachieved crap. They’re confidence is shot. And if Pop is the kind of coach you really think he is he’ll have them ready and playing the way they did at the beginning of this series. They win game 6 and 7 or it’s just plain embarrassing. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Paterson/100000762584235 John Paterson

    Fire him and hire Scott Brooks.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Good points. Even Splitter is averaging 5 minutes. But for Bonner he’s played more the first 3 games and still a no show. But I see your point the second unit the way Pop was playing them during the 20 game win streak had them putting in some good  minutes and it showed. He’s going to ride the Core3 till the wheels come off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Paterson/100000762584235 John Paterson

    No Manu along with Tony Parker is the one flopping all over the court. 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbs3R0-rE6s 

  • Ace Smith

    The cocky spurs fans must be shaking in their boots now, this series is over and everyone now is seeing that the spurs are out matched!! i wrote all about this in my blog and how to bet it so come check it out and enjoy! http://nbawagers.com/2012/06/the-young-thunder-guns-do-it-again/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Paterson/100000762584235 John Paterson

    No you kinda just got beat even with Manu and Tony Parkers flopping all over the place and all the bad calls against the Thunder. All the flopping and you still got beat.

  • NYC

    That is the most ridiculous argument ever. Do you really hear yourself? 

    The Spurs organization are great at drafting, you say. Who was general manager and vice president of basketball operations before and when the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan? Oh, it was Popovich. Look it up: 1994 – 2002. RC Buford was the head scout for the team and only took over as general manager when Popovich relinquished the position. That means Popovich was Buford’s boss at one point. Popovich has also been head coach from 1996 – 2012 , winning 4 championships and 2x coach of the year. You don’t just get lucky to win that much. You can bet that a man with that kind of record has a lot of say in who the organization drafts, even as only head coach. So if the Spurs have drafted well and continue to do so, Popovich has something to do with it. So which is it? Is Popovich a dummy who can’t coach his way out of a paper bag or is he part of the brilliant FO that has drafted and engineered the winningest franchise in all of sports? 

    If you want to blame Popovich for losing this series, then keep your arguments consistent. It’s really hard to take you seriously when you cherry pick and contradict yourself. Popovich is responsible for this series’ lost, right? It has nothing to do with the players on the court? OK, then I suppose Popovich is also responsible for the 4 championships too. It was all him. Because it’s entirely on the coach whether a team wins or loses, according to your logic. 

  • NYC

    Wow. Great argument. How do you counter that pearl?

  • NYC

    Thank you for posting the most reasonable post on this thread.

  • theghostofjh

    Why don’t you take your troll face somewhere else.

  • theghostofjh

    Yes, but Jax has been one of the few that have let it fly with a defender closing strong to contest at the arc.

  • theghostofjh

    Do you know what a goal tend is?

  • theghostofjh

    Agreed.

  • theghostofjh

    Yeah, they’re invincible. I get it. Right. LOL.

  • theghostofjh

    Can you find a different schtick? You’re boring me.

  • theghostofjh

    Sure, but we do still have to show more consistent and intense effort defensively. Has to be for 48 minutes, by everybody.

  • theghostofjh

    I wouldn’t count Neal out in game six.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Paterson/100000762584235 John Paterson

    Cook has been doing that the all season long though.

  • theghostofjh

     @Titletown:disqus -

    “What the hell was that when Pop made his first substitution for TD and
    inserted Bonner for one possession then quickly took him out and put
    Splitter like he was supposed to. Boy did he ever send a message to
    Splitter. Bad timing Pop you don’t do that in the playoffs for mindf*$k
    sake. Nice one Pop just go ahead and tell him he sucks.”

    You’re absolutely right on this. Bonner should have stayed on the bench when TD came out, and we should have substituted Splitter in for Blair and went into a small-ball set. Blair is not suited for playing the role of lone big in small-ball against a team like OKC. Splitter is a better match-up on Collison. IMO. Pop messed up here, and the scoreboard agrees. OKC promptly went on a 14-6 run to end the 1st quarter.

  • theghostofjh

    You’re a regular comedian.

  • theghostofjh

    “He puts in Blair and doesn’t run one pick n roll? ……. And they have completely abandoned the Pick n roll They used run a pick n roll over and over until the D didn’t stop it.”

    Exactly, but is part of that on Tony?

    “The ball stands still and is predictable when TD posts up. TD can still post sparingly but that wasn’t his game this year.”

    Agree with that as well.

    “Its not all Pops fault though…”

    Right, of course not.

    “They can win if they just play Spurs basketball, but they haven’t played they since game 2.”

    Not consistently at least, and they still had a shot at games 4 and 5.

    The keys are to play very aggressive at both ends for 48 minutes, and STOP turning the ball over. We just have to take care of the ball against this team.

  • Len

    Wow, the trolls have come out in full force.  I suppose we can all take it as a compliment.  Some people are bound to hate the prolonged, unprecedented, decade++ of greatness that the Spurs have had.

    I mean, do u really think trolls are hitting up Milwaukee’s website?

  • Bob

     A coach is supposed to build confidence not destroy it. The teams confidence is in shambles right now. I am not sure how many still believe they can win.

  • Tyler

    We must have been watching different games.

  • Tyler

    There is another team out there on the court called the Thunder. They’re from OKC and they’re pretty talented. They might have a little something to do with the Spurs struggles.

  • Tyler

    Pop is still RC’s boss. In addition to being the head coach, he’s president of basketball operations.

  • Tim in Surrey

    What do you think you’re watching, high school ball? Do you really think that any single move Pop makes will shatter the confidence of a guy like Splitter, who has been playing professionally and as part of the Brazilian national team for years? Get real. These guys are professionals. Yes, they have emotional ups and downs and professionals can have crises of confidence. But to think that Pop putting Bonner in and then switching to Splitter affected either of them to a significant degree is just ludicrous. If they were that fragile they’d never have made it to Game 5 of an NBA playoff.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Why a miracle? The last two games have been close enough that a break here or a break there would’ve won them for the Spurs. And if the Spurs can take it up a notch and win tonight… Doesn’t that give them the advantage again? All they have to do is win two games. It won’t be easy because they’re up against a very talented and confident team. But they’re perfectly capable of doing it. No miracles necessary.

  • TD BestEVER

    You can’t seem to understand or comprehend a simple message……..

    My gripe isn’t that I didn’t want Manu to take the shot – Its that the play took too long to develop and when you only have 15 sec you need a QUICKER HITTING PLAY.  

    Using Manu as a decoy to get the ball in to jack and then Running Manu to the far side and then trying to set up a PNR took way too long.  If Manu would have flashed to get the ball where Jack caught it – he would have had more space to run his PNR and it would have been much faster.  By the time Manu actually got the ball in a decent postion to shoot we had wasted about 10 seconds and he had no choice other than to launch.   

    A simpler play would have given us the option of a quick 2 instead of a desperate 3.

    And as far as Parker – if we are playing well – and taking care of the ball and just getting beat – then you give credit to OKC – But with 21 TO’s and most of them unforced why would any fan tip their hat to the other team………..

    I’m sorry if I have a bit more passion and am not simply enjoying the ride….I want to win, and don’t like it when people are playing up to their potential or in Parker’s case, just playing like well below it

  • Spinetrine38

    Haha, it was a Freudian slip…would tony “kitty” parker have been more acceptable?

  • Lwbst

    Lol you kidding me? Brooks is out coaching the old man and the Thunder players are outplaying the old men. Father time is undefeated and the Thunder is taking this tonight in 6. Scott brooks is the best coach in basketball. He is going to win at least five championships with this time, more than the spurs have.

  • Patrick Chewing

    Milwaukee doesn’t flop.  I’ve seen more flops coming from a black and silver jersey than you could see at a PGA tournament.  Flopping makes you easy to hate.  No one wants to see it.  Nobody hates you because you’re great.  They hate the old man mentality trying to con their way into wins by begging the refs for calls.  

    (ie. Steven Jackson flopping push offs from Durant — common, Durant is a stick.  
    ie. Tony Parker getting his pocked picked by Harden only to turn around, flail to the floor and hold his hand — see no foul language that time!  
    ie. Manu slamming on the breaks at the start of a transition break to purposely get a defender to run into him.)  

    That’s why people hate the spurs, they don’t play basketball 100% of the time.  I’d say maybe 80%…the other 20% is spent trying to force calls with acting to get free points at the line, and/or forcing coaches to dig deeper into their benches.  No one wants to see that.  We want to see both teams giving 100% basketball related effort (no acting), and the better team prevailing.  The issue with the Spurs is, they are not the more talented, or athletic team int his series.  So it seems (especially in game 5) they are doing anything they can, honorable or not, to salvage their shot at the Finals.

  • Biggaford2

    Pop needs to play Patty Mills at point when parker is on the bench, and stop put neal as the point, he`s not a point guard, second he need to play blair more.