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SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 04: Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs fights for control of the ball against Nick Collison #4 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on June 4, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Monday, Nov 25 at 11:01 PM
What's wrong with the Spurs?
With San Antonio's NBA team on the brink of playoff elimination after falling into a 3-2 hole in the Western Conference finals, that's been the paramount question throughout the city since the Oklahoma City Thunder won their third straight game in the series Monday night.
After winning 20 consecutive games that included a 10-0 start in the playoffs and 2-0 lead against the Thunder, the Spurs find themselves one loss away from one of the most stunning postseason collapses in NBA history.
A San Antonio defeat in Game 6 Wednesday night in Oklahoma City would give the Spurs the dubious distinction of becoming the first team in NBA annals to win its first 10 playoff games and not make the Finals.
Wednesday night's game starts at 8.
Never one to mince words, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich expressed confidence after the Game 5 loss that his players will "come out ready to go" in Game 6.
"You know, championship teams win on the road, and Oklahoma City just did that," Popovich said. "So they've proven they're a championship-caliber team. We have to go do that.
"If we can't win on Wednesday, we're not a championship-caliber team. It's as simple as that. You look at anybody who's won championships, and they've won on the road as the process goes along."
A Spurs victory would send the series back to San Antonio for the decisive seventh game Friday night.
Turnovers have plagued Spurs for most of series
"I absolutely believe we can win," Spurs captain Tim Duncan said. "I think we've got the right formula. We've got the right attitude and mindset to be able to win on the road. We've been in this situation before. I think we're all very upset and sad about the loss here and we're excited to go up there and play again."
While OKC has played well since losing the first two games of the series in San Antonio, the Spurs have been all too accommodating by turning the ball over with alarming frequency.
The Thunder scored 28 points off of the Spurs' 21 turnovers in their 108-103 victory in Game 5 at the AT&T Center.
"Turnovers are automatic points for them," Duncan said.
The rash of turnovers in Game 5 continued a disturbing trend that has plagued the Spurs throughout most of the series against OKC. They have made almost as many turnovers (52) as they have assists (58) in their three-game slide.
A team that was one of the league's most efficient during the regular season and first 10 games of the playoffs has finished with 21 turnovers in three games of the Western Conference finals. The Spurs had 17 turnovers in Game 1, but still managed to squeeze out a 101-98 victory.
Popovich talked about the turnovers Tuesday before boarding the team's flight to Oklahoma City.
"They're a good enough team already," he said. "I don't think they need our help. When they score 28 points off of our 21 turnovers, it's enough to make you kick yourself. It's frustrating and maddening more than anything, because we've played so poorly as far as handling the basketball.
"They have something to do with it. Their defense has been very good, so they deserve a lot of the credit for that. But it's also uncharacteristic of our guys."
Popovich: OKC playing like Spurs did in first two games of series
Despite all the turnovers, the Spurs trailed by only two points in Game 5 before Thunder guard James Harden nailed a step-back 3-pointer with 28.8 seconds left. The Spurs were behind 101-88 with 5:17 left before rallying and almost pulling out the victory.
"With 30 seconds to go, it's a two-point game, so it's not like everything has gone to hell," Popovich said.
In the end, the Spurs' problems come back to turnovers.
After watching film of the first five games of the Western Conference finals, Popovich has concluded that the Thunder and Spurs had similar problems in their losses.
"I think the first two games, Oklahoma City didn't do a very good job of hitting the open man," Popovich said. "They were pretty hell bent for leather and didn't really play with all the pieces, and we took those games. And (now) it's sort of reversed.
"When I look at the film now, you can see us try to do some things on our own. Too many people doing it on their own – out of good intent – but it leads to contested shots, leads to turnovers, that kind of thing. You see Oklahoma City passing the ball and playing like we did in the first two games."
Spurs backup guard Gary Neal missed the team's flight to Oklahoma City, but was expected to join the team for Game 6. As he left his brief session with the media Tuesday, Popovich said Neal was not feeling well.
Western Conference finals
Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
(Thunder lead best-of-7 series 3-2)
Game 1: at San Antonio, Spurs 101, Thunder 98
Game 2: at San Antonio, Spurs 120, Thunder 111
Game 3: at Oklahoma City, Thunder 102, Spurs 82
Game 4: at Oklahoma City, Thunder 109, Spurs 103
Game 5: at San Antonio, Thunder 108, Spurs 103
Game 6: at Oklahoma City, Wednesday, 8 p.m.
*Game 7: at San Antonio, Friday, 8 p.m.
All times Central
* If necessary