There was a nervous energy heading into Game 5. The Spurs had lost two in a row, they had yet to beat the Thunder with Serge Ibaka in the lineup this year, losing all six of those match-ups. They also remembered how quickly their 2012 series against the Thunder turned, in almost the same way. And of course, there was the matter of getting back to the Finals, for what they like to call unfinished business.
Gregg Popovich’s first counter move for this one was to start Matt Bonner, which got me really excited for the possibility that he would score 40 points and we could call this The Red Wedding II. He went scoreless in 17 minutes, and so we move on. The game went back and forth early, and the Thunder seemed ready to run with the Spurs. The pace was a little frantic, the series seemed to be shifting in the Thunder’s favor. But, the Spurs kept running, and kept making shots, and suddenly it flipped. How soon we forget how great this team can be when they’re playing at this high level.
Tim Duncan bounced back with a strong effort, pouring in 22 points along with 12 rebounds. Overall, six Spurs scored in double figures, including Manu Ginobili’s 19 off the bench and Boris Diaw, who hit a couple huge three-pointers and contributed 13 points. The Spurs might be outclassed in terms of individual excellence, but strength in numbers and dominance at home has carried them to a 3-2 lead, now just one game away from the Finals. The Spurs have now won their last seven home games in the playoffs by: 23, 24, 17, 22, 17, 35 and 28.
As usual, the Thunder got strong efforts from Durant and Westbrook (25 and 21 points respectively, a combined 16 for 31 from the field) but, as the story goes when they lose, nothing much from the supporting cast. Serge Ibaka was a non-factor on this night, and he said after the game he feels the same way physically as he did when he was out at the start of the series. Translated: not a good sign for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City now heads home, and need to re-group on Saturday to force a Game 7. The Spurs? Now one win away from the long trek back to the Finals. Almost there.
Follow me on Twitter @steven_lebron