Coming into Thursday’s Game 5, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich knew he was going to make a change after his team was beaten in two consecutive games by the Oklahoma City Thunder to even up the Western Conference Finals at two games apiece.
15 minutes before tipoff, Popovich made the adjustment when he started forward Matt Bonner in place of usual starting center Tiago Splitter. It seemed to be the spark that the Spurs needed to get some answers to figuring out a young and athletic Thunder team.
Bonner starting meant Ibaka had to go out to the 3-point line to guard the shooters and opened up the lane for the Spurs’ offense. Not only did it give San Antonio more scoring options, it also forced Kevin Durant to try and follow Manu Ginobili all around the court. Boris Diaw started the second half in place of Bonner and finished the game with 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, six rebounds and three assists. Diaw gave San Antonio another offensive weapon that they didn’t have in Oklahoma City.
During Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City, the Spurs struggled to contain the Thunder on both ends of the floor. Serge Ibaka returned in the third game of the series, but San Antonio’s problems went deeper than that. The Silver & Black did not have the same focus we had seen after two games in the Alamo City and it resulted in a tied series returning back to San Antonio for Game 5.
“We did try to get the other big out of the paint,” Ginobili said. “So we sent, — well Matt of course, and Boris to the three-point line. The fact that he made two of the three he took, it’s not six three-pointers, but those two were significant because it makes the defense think about it.”
Danny Green and Patty Mills broke out of their slumps to go 7 of 12 from the perimeter. Kawhi Leonard would add 14 points and got several chances to post up defenders when Ibaka was out near the three-point line guarding Bonner or Diaw.
The Spurs also went back to their crisp ball movement. They finished with 23 assists and had six players score in double-figures. Instead of driving the paint and risk getting blocked by the Thunder big men, the Spurs dished the ball out to the open man, which usually resulted in a made basket.
The loss means Oklahoma City now has their back against the wall and their season on the line. The Thunder will give it everything they’ve got in Game 6 to force another game. The Spurs will have to keep their focus for 48 minutes and play smart basketball much like they did in Game 5 if they want to close out a tough Thunder team. San Antonio has not won at Chesapeake Energy Arena since March of 2012, but in the words of Kevin Garnett: “Anything is possible.”
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