SAN ANTONIO — Scott Brooks laughed and just shook his head.
Five games, five blowouts. The home team has won each game by an average of 20.4 points, with each game not featuring Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in crunchtime, but instead Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Cory Joseph and Jeff Ayers.
What’s the explanation?
“It’s interesting,” Brooks said. “You can’t really explain it because both teams compete it’s the way it is.”
Gregg Popovich took a more direct approach.
“You’re serious?” he said. “You really think I can explain that?”
It’s an insanely close series while being insanely lopsided at the same time. We think we know something. We know nothing. Serge Ibaka’s return appeared to tilt things severely in the direction of the Thunder, seemingly handed us our explanation for the first two blowouts. But after the way the Spurs clinically destructed the Thunder in Game 5, we may have overstated things a touch. Maybe it’s home court really is an advantage in this series, in the more obvious way ever.
In a lot of ways, Game 5 was a repeat of Game 2. The Spurs made a starting lineup change that didn’t work, with the Thunder going up seven in the first quarter before the Spurs closed to have it tied 32-32. It appeared we were in for a classic. Alas.
“The first quarter was fool’s gold,” Brooks said. “We gave them 32 points. We were feeling good. I thought the last two minutes we relaxed, and they hit a couple of threes. It’s about playing every possession, and we didn’t have that mentality tonight, and we had that for 96 minutes the last two games. If we don’t get that back, it’s going to be a hard game to stop.”
Russell Westbrook, who torched the Spurs in Game 4, wasn’t ever able to completely shake loose. Kevin Durant was somewhat bottled. And the Thunder’s role players mostly didn’t show up. The Spurs’ secondary guys — notably Danny Green — did. This stat really tells the whole story — Green at home: 51 points on 17-27 shooting. Green on the road: 11 points on 4-16.
The expectation was for the Thunder to continue with what they accomplished in OKC, to keep swarming and attacking the Spurs with a palpable ferocity. Instead, it was the Spurs doing all the punching, the Thunder completely wilted in every way. There wasn’t any response, other than trimming a 14-point lead to 10 a few different times. All that emotion, all that intensity, all that fire — it was mostly gone.
If the Spurs were shaken by the two games in OKC, it’s the Thunder’s turn to feel it now. Not only are they backed to the brink of elimination, but unlike the Memphis series where they were down 3-2, they’re going to have to find a way to win in San Antonio.
“We’ve just got to worry about the next game. We’re guaranteed 48 more minutes,” Durant said. “It’s been an up‑and‑down series, but we’ve got to find a way to come with it in Game 6. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we’ve got to win in San Antonio, but we’ve got to get to the next game.”
After the 32 in the first quarter, the Thunder scored 57 the next three quarters, which included just 34 in the second half. The Spurs spaced the Thunder out and did their best to draw Ibaka out of the paint. And while they didn’t run to the rim or anything like in Games 1 and 2 (40 points in the paint tonight), they trusted the open man more and fired away, hitting 13-of-26 from 3. They started the downpour, and the Thunder couldn’t ever stop it.
“We just didn’t play well across the board on defense,” Durant said. “They spread us out, hit threes, and we were late. We were just a step slow.”
Now, that quote may lead some to believe that Game 5 was a product of Brooks playing his starters 40+ minutes to secure Game 4. Were the Thunder tired and the Spurs energized? I don’t think that’s the explanation here. This wasn’t a rest issue. This was a Spurs-played-absolutely-fantastic issue. The Thunder didn’t look like they were dragging around as much as it looked like the Spurs just rose to the occasion. They got every loose ball and finally dominated the glass. It was one team playing desperate against another that may have gotten a little too confident.
What it leaves is the Thunder at yet another postseason crossroads. The ebbs and flows of a playoff series are awesome, and by awesome, I mean the worst thing ever. One night you’ve got everyone talking about how unstoppable someone is and making Finals watch party plans. The next, you want the coach fired and players traded.
But it’s the playoffs. And unless they wake themselves up for Game 6, it’s going to finally be over for the Thunder.
- Reggie Jackson started 5-5 for 11 points. He finished 5-10 for 11 points.
- The issue for the Thunder was squarely back on the defensive end. There was no force. Tony Parker got to his spots with comfort and as the Spurs moved the ball, the Thunder never could catch up.
- Jackson: “That’s what they’re known for. I don’t think it matters who plays. They could play five centers and they would still find a way to move the ball. It’s just what they do, their system, and they’re good at it.”
- Matt Bonner started for the Spurs, and did absolutely nothing. And yet, Pop was lauded all night for his big adjustment. It’s all in the perception of what you think of a coach. Really, it was a dumb move that the Thunder exposed easily in the first quarter. Pop wised up, figuring out Diaw was the right guy, and subbed him to start the second half. If Brooks had done the exact same thing, everyone would’ve crushed him for not starting the right guy in the first place, instead of seeing the good move that paid off.
- Along with starting Bonner, Popovich put Kawhi Leonard on Westbrook and Danny Green on Durant. I wouldn’t say it necessarily worked, but it was something different. Therefore, Pop is a genius.
- Ibaka: Six points on 3-10 shooting, two rebounds and two blocks. Just didn’t make an impact.
- Ibaka: “I did not do a good job protecting my teammates in the paint. I will be there for them.”
- Caron Butler continues his postseason tour of doing little to nothing. But hey, he blocked Manu Ginobili on that ill-advised dunk attempt.
- The Spurs never played two bigs at the same time tonight, unless you include Diaw as a big (which he definitely is — that’s a fat joke). Brooks on it: “No matter how we play, it has to be better. We can break it down, our big, plus minus our small, plus minus our hybrid lineup, plus minus. What we have out there has to play better. I believe in all of our guys. Everybody has to have the ability to come in and step up, but you have to be able to do it on the defensive end, and you have to have all five guys. You have one guy having a breakdown, you’re going to get punished with a three or a lay‑up, a roll down the middle.”
- I think that was Brooks’ way of saying not to expect a starting change or anything for Game 6. But there should be the insistence to match up, playing Durant at power forward more often.
- Spurs are rare fans that boo even after their player has raised his hand to claim a foul.
- Most of the Twitter discussion centered tonight around Jeremy Lamb, and why he wasn’t playing. Yes, he had a nice impact in Games 3 and 4, and I think he deserves time, but he wasn’t the answer. Brooks finally went to him in the third quarter, and that was when the lead went from 12 to 20.
- The Thunder turned it over only 11 times. Positives!
- With the way the Thunder started, I really thought they were headed for another decisive win. They looked confident and comfortable, getting easier shots than the Spurs. And then it all turned so quickly.
- What’s difficult here, is the mental battle the Thunder will have to fight. They know that all they need is one win for a winner-take-all Game 7. But that Game 7 is at the place they’ve lost three straight times by a combined 80 points.
- The Spurs snapped the Thunder’s seven-game win streak with Ibaka against them.
- Clearly the solution between Game 5 and 6 is to fire Scott Brooks. That will fix everything, because those two resounding wins in OKC had nothing to do with him, yet this loss is all his fault.
- Seriously, what could Brooks have done to prevent this? The Spurs played amazing basketball. The Thunder didn’t. Pretty simple. No in-game adjustment was saving OKC from itself tonight.
- So to recap: If the Thunder are going to the Finals, it’s not going to happen on their home floor. Obvious statement, but kind of sobering.
Next up: Game 6 in OKC on Saturday