Tuesday, Jun 5 at 7:52 AM
Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden has made some key shots in his career, but none bigger than the 3-pointer he nailed with 28.8 seconds left in OKC's 108-103 victory against the Spurs in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Monday night.
With the Thunder clinging to a 103-101 lead, Harden launched a 25-foot jumper over Kawhi Leonard that found the bottom of the net and silenced the sellout crowd at the AT&T Center.
"The play was for Kevin and the shot clock was going down," Harden said, referring to high-scoring Thunder forward Kevin Durant. "That is why I had to make a play.
"I think Kawhi Leonard was playing very good defense on me, and I just had to make a shot. I just went back to my mechanics and shot the ball with confidence, and it went in."
But while OKC was well on its way to taking a 3-2 lead in the series and pushing the Spurs to the brink of playoff elimination, the drama was far from over.
Manu Ginobili, who returned to the starting lineup and led the Spurs with 34 points, scored on a layup to cut the deficit to 106-103 with 22.9 seconds remaining.
The Spurs got one last chance to tie the game after Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha lost the ensuing inbounds pass out of bounds with 15.8 seconds left.
But the Silver & Black's hopes of maintaining the home-court advantage in the series died when Ginobili, who hit 5 of 10 shots from 3-point range, missed an off-balance 25-footer with 4.9 seconds remaining.
Spurs on three-game skid after winning 20 in a row
"It wasn't my best shot, of course, but I didn't have options," Ginobili said. "They played good D. They realized I was coming to that corner, and they closed out. So we had to improvise, and it wasn't a great shot. But it wasn't a bad one, either. It just didn't go in."
After winning 20 consecutive games, the Spurs have lost three in a row for the first time this season and are on the verge of one of the most stunning playoff collapses in NBA history.
The Thunder, who lost the first two games of the series in San Antonio, can move on to the NBA Finals with a victory in Game 6 on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
A Spurs victory would send the series back to San Antonio for the decisive seventh game Friday night.
"In a nutshell, we have to go win one on the road," said backup forward Stephen Jackson, who hit 3 of 6 attempts from beyond the 3-point line and finished with 13 points. "There's not really nothing else to say. They played like a championship team and won one on the road, and we have to return the favor point blank."
That the Spurs closed to within two in the final minute was a feat in itself considering they trailed 101-88 after Harden converted a four-point play with 5:17 left. Led by Tim Duncan, who scored six points in the rally, the Spurs went on an 11-0 run to cut OKC's lead to 101-99 with 1:54 remaining.
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook hit a 17-foot jumper to make it 103-99, but the Spurs drew within two again on Duncan's turnaround bank shot with 50.9 seconds to go.
That set the stage for Harden's shot of the game.
Thunder feasted on Spurs' 21 turnovers
Turnovers continued to bedevil the Spurs, whose characteristic poise and efficiency have withered against the younger, more athletic Thunder.
OKC converted San Antonio's 21 turnovers into 28 points Monday night. The Thunder weren't exactly efficient themselves, committing 17 turnovers that the Spurs converted into 19 points.
"Turnovers are automatic points for them," Duncan said. "They get out in the open floor and they have such athletes and such great players. That's one of the things we've talked about throughout this series."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich also cited turnovers as the big key in his team's loss.
"These guys are hard to guard, talented, hungry, athletic, and the bottom line is you can look at whatever you want, but you can't turn it over 21 times for 28 points against a team like that," Popovich said. "They're too good. And that's what we did again.
"Turnovers have been a theme throughout this entire deal, and part of that is us being sloppy or not delivering the ball at the right time, and part of it is that they've played really good defense. They've been physical."
The Thunder led 26-21 after one quarter and 52-44 at halftime. The Spurs went ahead briefly in the third quarter before OKC took the lead for good, 72-71, with 2:31 left in the period. The Thunder headed into the fourth quarter with an 81-72 advantage.
Monday night's loss was the Spurs' first at home since April 11, when they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Silver & Black started a club-record 20-game winning streak after the loss to the Lakers and had won 31 of their last 33 games before getting routed by the Thunder in Game 3 last week in Oklahoma City.
Duncan finishes with 18 points, 12 rebounds
Durant and Westbrook led OKC with 27 and 23 points, respectively. Harden, who comes off the bench, made 6 of 11 shots, including 3 of 4 from beyond the 3-point arc, and finished with 20 points.
Ginobili, who started in place of struggling guard Danny Green, was outstanding on both ends of the court. He hit 11 of 21 shots, pulled down six rebounds and dished out seven assists.
Ginobili said he approaches the game with the same mindset, regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench.
"I just want to get on the court, do what I can do to help the team win, and that's it," Ginobili said. "I knew that with me starting, I have the possibility to play more minutes, so I knew I had to be ready for that."
Tony Parker scored 20 points, and Duncan finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
"First and foremost, you have to give them credit," Duncan said. "They are a heck of a team and very talented. They made some very tough shots when they had to, and they execute their stuff.
"On top of that, we made some runs as well. We played good for stretches and that wasn't good enough. We got a lead there and let them back in it. It was too much back-and-forth, and not enough consistent play from us."
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