Pop had this one figured out before tipoff: start Manu Ginobili, and make the Thunder sweat the matchups. And Manu, you may be sure, was up to the task. (Downside: Danny Green, reasonably effective when he was a starter, came up empty as a reserve.) With 5:17 left, the Thunder were up by 13; over the next four minutes, the Spurs gradually eroded that lead to two. With OKC up 103-101 at the 29-second mark, James Harden lofted a trey right over Kawhi Leonard’s head. The Spurs weren’t dead; Ginobili duly bagged a layup, and then a bad pass gave them the ball back with 15 seconds left. Manu was in position, but his attempted trey clanked, and at the 0.8 mark, Kevin Durant sank two free throws to ice it. San Antonio got a perfectly useless trey at the horn, which was eventually waved off: Thunder 108, Spurs 103, and what was an 0-2 series is now 3-2.
Still, Manu remains Manu, and there is still no consistent way to shut him down. Ginobili bagged a game-high 34 points on 11-21 shooting, including five treys, and the ancient Tim Duncan merely hit 7-10 and pulled in 12 rebounds. His mere presence gives hope to us classmates of Methuselah. Tony Parker was a bit more himself, with 20 points. With Ginobili starting, though, the bench had to fight for scraps: only 22 among them, with Stephen Jackson getting 13. The Spurs seriously outrebounded the Thunder, 42-34, and shot a decent 46 percent.
But the Thunder shot 50 percent, forced 21 Spur turnovers while giving up only 16, and somehow got Russell Westbrook out of his three-game funk. He didn’t shoot all that well — 9-24 — but 12 assists to go with 23 points is worthy. Durant, a slow starter in the first half, ended up with 27; Harden, just as slow, still found his way to 20. I suspect a tracking device in the beard. Kendrick Perkins drew a tech early on, and then fouled out inside the two-minute mark; he hadn’t done much offensively, but he pulled down ten rebounds.
This is the first game of the semifinals that was not won by the home team. This means — well, damned if I know what it means, except that Game 6 will be back in the OKC on Wednesday, and the Thunder will have every incentive to make sure they don’t have to go back to San Antonio.