NBA Playoffs: Spurs Defensive Woes Give Thunder Game 5

The San Antonio Spurs have gone from pre-ordained champions to on-the-verge-of-elimination because the bugaboos that were lurking in the background throughout the playoffs—mediocre defense and a lack of star power—came back to bite them again in a devastating 108-103 Game 5 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who now hold a 3-2 series lead and close it out at home on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma City shot 50 percent from the floor, something that should never happen to a championship team on its home floor, and that’s even with Russell Westbrook clanging up a 9-for-24 night as he got an inefficient 23 points. But say this for Westbrook—he didn’t retreat into a shell and he was still an effective passer, distributing 12 assists and helping Kevin Durant shoot 10-for-19 on his way to 27 and James Harden to knock down 20, including three of four from behind the arc.

While Tim Duncan was efficient at 18/12 and Manu Ginobli was spectacular, with a 34-point night that made it look like he’d visited the same Fountain of Youth that Boston’s Kevin Garnett stopped by, Tony Parker played his third straight subpar game—not coincidentally, all Spurs’ losses. Like Westbrook, Parker got his points with 20. But like Westbrook, it took a cold 5-of-14 shooting night to get there. And unlike Westbrook, Parker didn’t distribute the ball nearly as well. In fact, he went the other direction, with his five turnovers being the biggest culprit in San Antonio’s 21 miscues.

The Thunder got a second straight solid game from Kendrick Perkins at center. While he didn’t have the scoring outburst of Game 4, Perkins still grabbed 10 rebounds and provided a counterweight to the work of Duncan and Kawhi Leonard down low. Rebounding was still a San Antonio advantage, because OkC’s Serge Ibaka did nothing on the glass, but without Perkins’ work, the home team would have continued to hold serve.

Boston has matched Oklahoma City each step of the way through the conference finals, losing the first two at home and then turning the series around at home. The Thunder have set the bar high with a road Game 5 win and now the Celtics go into Miami tonight. The word is that Chris Bosh is going to play for the Heat. I’m not sold that this is a positive development for the Heat, at least not in the short term. Not because I buy into the notion that they’re a better team without him because it frees up LeBron and Dwayne Wade to have the ball more. A healthy Big Three makes for the best Miami team. But, for the first game back, there might well be adjustment problems.

Furthermore, I have to question how healthy Bosh really is. Prior to Game 4, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was saying there was no timetable on the power forward’s return. Now they lose the game and Bosh is suddenly back? I guess no timetable can mean anything you want, but it usually he doesn’t mean a guy is in the lineup tomorrow. This smacks of a panic move by Miami. And ultimately, when the Heat bring the defensive intensity, they are the better team in this series. They just haven’t brought it for four quarters. If holding serve at home and at least assuring yourselves a Game 7 at home isn’t motivation to bring the defensive focus, I don’t know what will be.