NBA Preview from The Sports Network
Thursday, May 29th (All times Eastern)
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder (2-2) at (1) San Antonio Spurs (2-2), 9 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The volatile, and now tied, Western Conference Finals shift to Alamo City for a humongous Game 5 Thursday night between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Serge Ibaka returned to the Thunder lineup from a calf injury that was supposed to sideline him for the remainder of the postseason and the results were sparkling. Ibaka helped OKC to victories in Games 3 and 4 and his defense has been a huge reason for the shift in momentum.
With Ibaka back in action, the Thunder have held the Spurs to 40 and 36 points in the paint for the two games at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Without Ibaka and the series at AT&T Center, San Antonio exploited his absence to the tune of 66 and 54 points in the paint.
But Ibaka's return isn't the only factor in OKC tying the series.
Kevin Durant, the reigning MVP, has been brilliant, but Russell Westbrook has been amazing.
The Thunder won Game 4, 105-92, and the dynamic duo of Oklahoma City was on full display. Westbrook finished with 40 points, 10 assists, five steals and five rebounds, while Durant poured in 31 points on just 22 shots.
Westbrook became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1989 to have a postseason game with at least 40 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and five steals.
"I just think myself and Kevin, obviously we want to win, and we want to get better," said Westbrook. "Tonight, we came out with a defensive mindset. I thought we did a great job of helping each other out defensively, and that led to us getting out in transition, getting open looks, and it looked easy for both of us."
The Thunder shot 50.8 percent from the field over the first three quarters to build a substantial lead, one aided by a staggering 21-0 advantage in fastbreak points.
Tony Parker scored 14 points, while the other two-thirds of San Antonio's Big 3 -- Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili -- totaled 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Kawhi Leonard scored 10 as the San Antonio starters, including Danny Green and Tiago Splitter, combined for 39 points, one shy of Westbrook's total.
"They're talented obviously, but the athleticism and the length gives you a small margin of error, and you'd better be smart the way you play, and you can't afford to screw that up as many times as we did," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "And I think we have to play harder."
To that end, Pop sat his starters midway through the third quarter, bringing some back in the fourth. Afterward, he indicated that he was resting players for Thursday, but after practice on Wednesday, he said some changes, albeit small ones, might be in order.
"We've considered a couple of tweaks here and there just in the game plan." Popovich said. "I don't know exactly where that'll be, but we saw a few things that we think might warrant a little tweak here and there."
The Spurs, who are 8-1 at home this postseason, saw a similar scenario play out two years ago. They beat the Thunder in the first two games, then lost the last four as OKC marched into the NBA Finals.
"I don't think about it," said Pop.
Maybe Popovich should think about this - the Thunder have won seven straight over the Spurs with a full lineup, including Ibaka.
"We know what we're playing for," said Durant. "We know that the series is far from over, and we know we haven't done anything, but what we're supposed to do, which is win at home, taking care of our home court."
Game 6 will be Saturday night in Oklahoma City.
05/29 10:24:19 ET