Spurs point guard Tony Parker was right
A series can change really fast, as he told reporters Saturday before the Spurs flew to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder in the third and fourth games of the Western Conference finals.
Up 2-0 in the series when they landed in OKC, the Silver and Black returned to San Antonio deadlocked with the Thunder after two losses inthree nights at Chesapeake Energy Arena, which has turned into a veritable chamber of horrors for the team in silver and black uniforms.
But if there's a silver lining for the Spurs, it's that the series shifts back to San Antonio for Game 5, which tips off at 8 p.m. Thursday at the AT&T Center.
Russell Westbrook scored 40 points and dished out 10 assists to lead the Thunder to a 105-92 win in Game 4 Tuesday night. OKC led by as many 27 points before the Spurs' made the final score more respectable.
While Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Wednesday he's considering a couple of tweaks here and there, to the game plan, he minced no words in challenging his players to play with more passion going forward.
There's the tactical part, the o's and the x's and what you might do, Popovich said. In general, we've got to play with the same determination that they did in Oklahoma City. They played like a desperate team, and we did not match that.
That's the bottom line as far as the approach to the game. We were behind in that regard, and that has to change. It doesn't matter what we do tactically if we don't up that determination, that attitude, that persistent aggressive, ugly, hard-nosed attitude.
Pop cites Joseph for aggressive play in Game 4
Popovich said Westbrook, who nailed 12 of 24 shots and finished with five rebounds and five steals, embodied OKC's determination.
He played like it was his last game, Popovich said. That's the way it's got to be.
League MVP Kevin Durant made 11 of 22 shots and finished with 31 points for the Thunder, who shot 49 percent and won the rebounding battle 37-30. OKC finished with only seven turnovers, compared to 13 for the Spurs, who shot 40 percent.
I don't think there's any way we can match their athleticism, so we've got to play smart and take advantage of a few situations because that athletic part is not going to be matched, Popovich said. It's important for us to have a greater degree, a sense of place, a sense of where we are, and what kind of an opportunity we have here, and to what degree we want to take advantage of it.
These things don't come along every year, to be in this position. I'm anxious to see what our approach is, mentally, to the game.
Popovich singled out backup point guard Cory Joseph, who threw down a dunk on 6-foot-10 Thunder forward Serge Ibaka in the fourth quarter, for his aggressiveness.
In the film session today, I actually told the team that everybody's got to take on the attitude of Cory Joseph, kind of a take-no-prisoners, bunker-mentality attitude, Popovich said. He was fantastic and he did that better than anybody on our team yesterday. I liked Cory's approach to the game. I liked his attitude.
Joseph finished with 11 points in 17 minutes.
Spurs lost four straight to OKC in 2012 West finals
The Spurs didn't practice Wednesday, but they watched film of Tuesday night's game.
As I've said many times, you win a game, you lose a game, you go to the film and there are always things to find, Popovich said. It doesn't matter if you won or lost, as far as the film is concerned, there are always things you can do better. It's a game of mistakes so there's things in the film we think we can correct for tomorrow.
With Ibaka back on the court after missing the first two games of the series with a calf injury, the Thunder rolled to a 106-97 victory in Game 3 on Sunday night.
The Spurs find themselves in the same place where they were two years ago, when they took a 2-0 lead against OKC in the Western Conference finals before dropping Games 3 and 4 on the road.
The Thunder beat the Silver and Black 108-103 in Game 5 at the AT&T Center, and ended the series at home with a 107-99 victory in Game 6.
San Antonio had won 20 consecutive games, including a 10-0 run in the postseason, before it dropped four in a row to OKC.
We really haven't talked about it, but obviously, you learn from each experience, Parker said Saturday. We learned a lot from that series, because you win 20 games in a row and suddenly you lost four. It's like weird. I think it gave us a lot of experience to take nothing for granted, and we know a series can change really fast.
Popovich was asked if it's difficult to block the Spurs' collapse in the 2012 conference finals out of his mind.
No, I don't think about it, Popovich said. That's gone. We're focused on what we have to do now with this team.
Splitter fined: Spurs center Tiago Splitter has been fined $5,000 by the NBA for violating the league's anti-flopping rules during Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, the Spurs announced Wednesday afternoon. The play occurred with 7:30 left in the second quarter of the Spurs' 105-92 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Western Conference finals
(Series tied 2-2)
Game 1: Spurs 122, Thunder 105,May 19, San Antonio
Game 2: Spurs 112, Thunder 77, May 21, San Antonio
Game 3: Thunder 106, Spurs 97, Sunday, OKC
Game 4: Thunder 105, Spurs 92, Tuesday, OKC
Game 5: Thunder at Spurs, Thursday, 8 p.m.
Game 6: Spurs at Thunder, Saturday, May 31, 7:30 p.m.
Game 7, if necessary: Thunder at Spurs, Monday, June 2, 8 p.m.