Widely criticized for their late-game decisions and clock management throughout the year (and deservedly so), the Oklahoma City Thunder deserve all the praise in the world for bucking the road odds once again on their way to a 95-91 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
With the previously dominant LaMarcus Aldridge looking somewhat human from the field in the first half (3-9), Kawhi Leonard reminded us just how special he can be on both sides of the ball in helping his Spurs take a 48-43 lead into halftime. Leonard played like a man possessed on his way to 17 points, four rebounds, two assists and three steals through the first two quarters. Beyond his offensive impact, he was also fantastic on the defensive end both as an on-ball defender as well as in the role of disruptor in the halfcourt set and passing lanes.
Following a fantastic Game 4 performance that saw OKC’s Kevin Durant score 41 points and actually close the game with a 6-6 stretch with Leonard as his primary defender, the Thunder’s leading scorer found it difficult to operate under the defensive pressure of Leonard and Danny Green (at times) in the early going of their victory. Durant did have 12 points and six rebounds in the half, but was just 5-14 from the floor and certainly wasn’t in the type of rhythm he enjoyed just two nights prior.
The Spurs actually looked to increase the tempo early in the third quarter, and pushed the lead out to 56-47 on a strong drive to the basket by Tony Parker, causing OKC to call a quick timeout at just the 8:55 mark. Green’s third and fourth three-pointers of the game gave San Antonio its biggest lead of the contest not long after.
Russell Westbrook really got himself going in the second half both as a scorer (11 points in the third) and playmaker. He snatched rebounds over San Antonio big men, got out in transition, broke defenders down in the halfcourt set and managed to get teammates involved with his three assists in the quarter. The Thunder closed the third on a 12-4 run and cut into San Antonio’s lead 72-69 as the teams went into their final intermission.
San Antonio’s offense continued to struggle entering the fourth and even though the Spurs went over six minutes without a field goal, they still managed to hold a lead of 75-70 following a nice find of Aldridge in the paint by a driving Manu Ginobili. After Green’s fifth three of the game, Westbrook responded with a deep three of his own, followed by a rebound, push and find of wide open Durant on the wing. Durant’s three tied the game at 78, causing Gregg Popovich to call a timeout to regroup at the 8:02 mark of the fourth.
Tim Duncan’s legendary career may be coming to an end and even though he hasn’t been very productive in the series, the 19-year veteran found a way to grab several key rebounds and even blocked a Westbrook drive at one point. A big Leonard steal and dunk in transition over Westbrook gave the Spurs an 88-82 lead, but just when San Antonio fans may have breathed a slight sigh of relief Westbrook then followed up with a buzzer-beater (shot clock) and finish in transition to pull the Thunder back to within two at 88-86.
Kanter’s back-to-back buckets following another timeout then gave the Thunder the 90-88 lead. For a team that has struggled with execution down the stretch of games all year, OKC managed to do just enough against this disciplined Spurs unit. OKC was even able to overcome 20 turnovers compared to just seven for the Spurs as they toughed out their second consecutive win on San Antonio’s home court of the series. Westbrook (35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists) and Durant (23 points, six rebounds and five assists) were phenomenal yet again for the Thunder, but the job that OKC’s centers have done throughout the series should also be acknowledged. While Serge Ibaka is having a rough series with his matchup against Aldridge, both Steven Adams and Enes Kanter have provided exactly the type of interior toughness and all-around big man play Oklahoma City has needed against these Spurs. The duo combined for 20 points and 24 rebounds in the win and made several key plays on both ends for the Thunder.
Prediction: San Antonio comes out with a strong and spirited effort, but might find it difficult to match the unbridled energy and emotion that is going to be flowing throughout Chesapeake Energy Arena. OKC takes Game 6 and heads back to the Western Conference Finals.
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