Derek weighs in on the Spurs disappointing Game 5 performance against the Thunder and what it means for Game 6. (Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)
First, let me start by giving credit to the Thunder. I do not want this to become a bitter fan’s rant. The Thunder’s play has by and large been the difference in this series. Defensively, they are aggressive, long, and nasty. Their personality is feisty and resilient. The Thunder’s big three have outplayed the big three of the Spurs and more importantly, the Thunder’s stars come through in the clutch (Kevin Durant Game 4, James Harden/Durant Game 5). The Thunder bench is outplaying the Spurs’ bench, which seemed ridiculous one week ago. Serge Ibaka can’t miss, Thabo Sefolosha has been a defensive menace, Kendrick Perkins is getting under people’s skin, and even Daequan Cook lights it up when given an opportunity. Combine all that with Kevin Durant’s “I’m the best player in the game” show and it’s easy to see why the Spurs are staring down the barrel of a 3-2 series deficit when they were up 2-0 one week ago. The Thunder isn’t scared of anything and they have the swagger to prove it.
Now in the words of Gregg Popovich, “I want some nasty”…
- Pop is actually where I’m going to start. As well as Ginobili played in Game 5, I did not like the idea of starting him. It screamed of desperation. I agree with TNT’s Charles Barkley that starting Ginobili gave Danny Green no chance of getting out of his funk, but more importantly it completely disrupted any and all flow of the Spurs offense, which found something to work with at the end of Game 4. Instead, Pop pulled that card early and he will be forced to do it again in Game 6. As a result, there is no hope of the Spurs winning Game 6 by any other means than the big three pulling one out for the ages. Pop has no confidence in his bench (not that he really should), and will once again be forced to live and die with his aging stars.
- Speaking of the bench… Aside from Stephen Jackson (the lone bright spot on this team), you would think the Spurs were the thinnest team in the NBA. I actually texted a friend who is a Celtic fan telling him I was envious of the Boston bench (yeah, it’s that bad). Tiago Splitter can’t catch, Green can’t shoot, Matt Bonner can’t shoot, defend, or pass, Gary Neal is streaky at best, DeJuan Blair is under-sized and lacking the game needed to stretch the floor. For all the talk about getting a supporting cast to fill the right roles, not one of them is filling those roles. I feel like I am watching the 2011 Memphis series all over again.
- More disappointing is the play of the big three (and I’m throwing Ginobili in despite his stellar effort in Game 5). Ginobili and Tony Parker are playing like rookies when it comes to their ball handling. The turnovers (21 in Game 5) led to many Thunder points (28 in Game 5). There is no excuse. These guys are veterans who know how losing the turnover battle often means losing the game and/or the series. Averaging 16+ as a team is inexcusable and falls squarely on the two best playmakers the Spurs have; Parker and Ginobili. And playmaking is where Parker has failed miserably. Aside from Game 2, Parker has been pretty much non-existent. In Game 5, he was too busy whining and flopping instead of being the leader his team needed him to be. I am beginning to believe the Spurs really are Tony’s team, because they share his mentality to a T.
- And now we come to Tim Duncan. Personally, I hate speaking ill of Timmy. I still believe he is the best power forward of all time. With that said, aside from the 4th quarter of Game 5 (which gives some hope) Duncan has been altogether absent. His 18/12 performance is deceptive because he was absent for most of the game because he was committing stupid fouls on defense. He has suddenly been unable to anchor the defense after two successful series earlier in the postseason. OKC was daring him to beat them 1-on-1 with either Perkins or Ibaka. Duncan either held the ball forever, which led to a poor shot or failed in his decision making altogether. Last year he looked old, this year he looks clueless and uninspired.
- Which brings me to the main point and biggest reason why the Spurs find themselves staring at an early off-season and a rehashing of the 2004 collapse against the Lakers. This team, Jackson-Kawhi Leonard-Ginobili aside, is playing uninspired basketball. They lack resilience. They lack tenacity. They lack anger. They lack nastiness. They lack an overall will to play basketball. It can be seen in how the Thunder easily forced the Spurs out of their rhythm. They have made the Spurs look like the Miami Heat: either the stars score off the dribble or no one scores. The most telling moment of Game 5 was just before halftime. Russell Westbrook dribbled up the floor and essentially bounced the ball off Parker’s face before missing the shot. With the horn already sounded, Danny Green took a garbage-time shot which Westbrook emphatically swatted and followed it up with a mean stare. And what did the Spurs do? Nothing. They walked off the floor as if nothing happened. In nature this would be equivalent to the young lion walking into the cave of the dominant male, growling and slapping him in the face while the dominant male took it. When this happens, the reigns are usually handed over. And Game 6 will be what tells us whether or not this proves to be the case.
All in all, these past three games have been beyond frustrating. The Spurs have abandoned the way they play basketball and have let the Thunder walk all over them. As much as I respect Tim Duncan for his demeanor, series like these are where he needs to get a bit more emotional and start fighting back with both production and style. I am not hopeless about Game 6. I do believe they can go into OKC and steal Game 6. It won’t be easy, though, and it will require the best game the Spurs have played all season.
Here’s to hoping…