Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals followed the form of the series' first four games: an absolute rout.
The San Antonio Spurs manhandled the Oklahoma City Thunder, 117-89, to move to within one game away from a second straight appearance in the NBA Finals. Tim Duncan led the way with 22 points and 12 rebounds, while Manu Ginobili chipped in 19 points, six assists and four rebounds off the bench.
The home team is now a perfect 5-0 in this series, and Oklahoma City certainly hopes that pattern continues in Game 6 on Saturday.
San Antonio was obliterated in Game 4, and they frankly looked overmatched in two contests in Oklahoma City with Serge Ibaka in the lineup. Gregg Popovich responded accordingly and changed his starting lineup before Game 5 at home on Thursday night.
Reggie Jackson doesn't think it matters who the Spurs play, according to the Oklahoman's Anthony Slater:
Reggie Jackson on the Spurs: "I don't think it matters who plays. They could play five centers and still find a way to move the ball."— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 30, 2014
The NBA on ESPN put Matt Bonner’s start in context, and it didn’t paint a pretty picture for the Spurs:
Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders noted that things didn’t quite go according to plan for Bonner in the opening few possessions:
Not a great start for the Ibaka killer. Serge closed Bonner out, then easily shut down his drive.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) May 30, 2014
Even with the Bonner change, there was a helter-skelter start to the critical Game 5. The NBA’s Twitter page described it and highlighted the contributions from Reggie Jackson in the process:
Frantic pace to start Game 5 with the Thunder reeling off a 7-1 run to take a 1-point lead early in the 1st. Reggie Jackson has 6.— NBA (@NBA) May 30, 2014
Of course, any time there is an up-and-down pace to a game, Russell Westbrook will likely thrive. He nearly tore the rim down on this attack, as Rob Dauster of NBC Sports captured:
This is violent: https://t.co/Vrn6eVqR6p— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) May 30, 2014
The Thunder and Spurs exchanged runs in the first 12 minutes, but were knotted at 32 as the opening quarter came to a close. As the second quarter got underway, Nate Duncan pointed out that San Antonio’s offense was much more efficient than it was in Oklahoma City:
5-7 for the Spurs so far at the rim. 5/10 on 3s. Taking less shots at the rim but more accurately.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) May 30, 2014
As effective as the Spurs were, they didn't have Westbrook and Kevin Durant to make plays like this, from the NBA:
However, anytime it looked as if the Thunder were putting together a run in the first half, Popovich responded by calling a timeout or slowing the pace. It was all about controlling the flow of the contest in front of the home crowd, especially with so much at stake.
San Antonio used that strategy to open up an eight-point lead, and Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News pointed out that the Spurs finally looked like the No. 1 seed again:
Spurs' largest lead since Game 2, if I'm not mistaken.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) May 30, 2014
San Antonio controlled the second quarter and opened up a 65-55 lead at the half. However, it wasn't able to stop Westbrook from hitting this deep three heading into intermission:
As the second half began, one NBA legend added to his incredible career totals, via Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:
With that rebound Tim Duncan has his 154th career playoff double double— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) May 30, 2014
The Spurs gradually extended their lead in the first half of the third quarter, partially thanks to the across-the-board contributions from Kawhi Leonard. However, Westbrook wasn't making it easy on the other end for the Spurs forward:
Leonard hits 2 from the charity stripe to put the Spurs up 71-59 with 8:56 left in the 3rdQ. Leonard with 14 pts, 5 rbs and 1 ast #GoSpursGo— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) May 30, 2014
Seeing Westbrook just blow by Leonard over and over even w/out a screen is remarkable.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) May 30, 2014
In the third quarter, San Antonio played like the team that made the NBA Finals last year and finished with the best record in the NBA this season. Tony Parker created opportunities for himself and his teammates with his penetration, while Boris Diaw was lighting it up from outside.
Play in the paint was one major key in the turnaround from the past two games, as NBA.com/stats noted:
.@spurs shot 46.3% in the Paint in Gms 3-4 (38 PPG in the Paint).They already have 32 Pts in the Paint & a 72.7% Paint FG% early in the 3rdQ— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 30, 2014
San Antonio opened up a 17-point lead near the end of the third quarter and was in complete control of the game. Gary Parrish of CBS Sports pointed out just how important home-court advantage is in this series:
The Western Conference Finals ... where homecourt advantage is worth like 30 points.— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) May 30, 2014
The Spurs finished the third quarter with a 94-74 lead, and there was little doubt which team would be heading back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 with a 3-2 lead.
ESPN Stats & Info put San Antonio's performance into perspective as the fourth quarter began:
Spurs scored 93 points last game. They have 94 thru 3 quarters tonight. @manuginobili (19 points) has outscored the Thunder bench by himself— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 30, 2014
The game was a blowout in the fourth quarter, so Grantland's Zach Lowe began looking ahead to Game 6 and pointed out why San Antonio dominated Thursday:
Spurs using that, and other simpler actions -- slipping screens, splitting traps -- to really hurt OKC's hard traps up high. Especially Manu— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 30, 2014
Danny Green used the fourth quarter to practice his stroke from behind the three-point line, and it was clearly working. SportsNation summed it up nicely:
Danny Green be like... I'm changing my last name to GR33N. pic.twitter.com/yjQlGh73SX— SportsNation (@SportsNation) May 30, 2014
The benches finally cleared with about eight minutes to go in the game for both teams. There was no need to risk further injury with Game 6 less than 48 hours away, although it certainly took Thunder coach Scott Brooks long enough to pull his previously injured players in Ibaka and Jackson.
Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com noted that Ginobili was one of the many keys for San Antonio, while ESPN Stats & Info highlighted Duncan's contributions:
Manu Ginobili was so, so, good this game. 19 points and 6 assists in 21 minutes, no TOs— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) May 30, 2014
Tim Duncan with his 98th playoff game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. The next closest active player is Dirk Nowitzki (64)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 30, 2014
ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton decided to compare the blowout tendency of this series to those of NBA playoffs past during the anticlimactic fourth quarter:
Besides 1992 CHI-CLE, the other conference finals since 1984 w/first 5 games decided by 9+ points was 1988 DAL-LAL (all 12+).— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) May 30, 2014
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald put this victory into perspective for San Antonio:
There was too much "What's wrong with the Spurs?" talk the last two days. They're playing a good team, that's the only thing wrong.— Mike McGraw (@McGrawDHBulls) May 30, 2014
After many commentators left San Antonio's chances for dead after Games 3 and 4, the Spurs made quite a dramatic statement in Game 5.
The Spurs' streak of seven-straight home playoff wins by 15+ points is now the longest such streak in NBA history. pic.twitter.com/dA8jdBnwZM— NBA.com (@NBAcom) May 30, 2014
Game 6 will be played on Saturday back in Oklahoma City, and if it follows suit with the rest of this series, the Thunder will obliterate the Spurs to force a Game 7.
Who wins Game 6?
The key to analyzing this series is not getting caught up in the dramatic swings from one game to the next due to the fact that the home teams have been so dominant. Just because it looked like San Antonio completely figured out the Thunder during Game 5 doesn't mean it will happen again on Saturday.
Look for Oklahoma City to jump out to an early lead behind its excellent home crowd in Game 6 and ride that initial momentum to a victory. It may not be a blowout, but we will likely see a Game 7 in this series.
Would it be too much to ask for that decisive contest for the Western Conference crown to be a close one?
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