* The Popovich decision to start Manu Ginobili was an interesting one. Barkley seemed to question it, wondering if subbing out Danny Green was necessary on the Spurs home floor. The early returns were in Pop’s favor as the Spurs jumped out to a 15-10 lead. But when James Harden (the “other” 6th Man in this series) came in with 4:33 to go in the 1st (score now 15-12 Spurs) OKC went on a 14-6 run to end the quarter. A similar roller coaster happened in the 3rd Quarter with Ginobili coming out WHITE HOT, leading the Spurs to a 6-point lead after beginning the half down by 8. Again, Harden came in pretty much as Ginobili went out and the Thunder roasted the Spurs to finish that quarter, taking a 9-point lead with them into the 4th. In my opinion, Pop should have stayed with his starting five. Doubling down on Parker-Ginobili was too risky with Harden coming off the bench for the other side. James Harden was, not surprisingly, a game-best +24.
* More corner threes missed in the early part of this game for the Spurs. San Antonio’s Game 2–some people’s estimation of what perfect basketball looks like-was heavily dependent on the corner trey. Kawhi showed us that he is human, even from the corner, and missed one early. So did Danny Green. That affects confidence and decision making. Aside from Ginobili’s crazy 3rd Quarter, the Spurs offense struggled in this game.
* The flopping. Somebody make it stop. San Antonio, when faced with a red-hot and super-athletic Thunder opponent, started flopping every which way on both sides of the ball. Ginobili practically got his hot streak started by flopping around trying to get calls. I took my frustrations to the #StopTheFlop Police over at HoopIdea.
I hope the refs in Game 6, perhaps catering more toward the Thunder fans, will not reward flopping. The Spurs shouldn’t need to flop–they’ve played great offensive basketball all season long.
* Russell Westbrook was an absolute train wreck in the 4th Quarter and nearly cost his team the game, and likely the series. With MVP-candidate Kevin Durant heating WAY up, Russell stopped giving him the ball. Instead, he took questionable jumpers and then made things worse with a series of turnovers. James Harden, the far-calmer of the two Thunder guards, needs to handle the rock during Winning Time. Russ’s energy and emotions are assets for much of the game but not on the road in a Game 5 playing with a big lead and a hot Kevin Durant. He (ever-so-partially) redeemed himself with one big jumper in the final minute, but really hurt his team in big moments tonight.
* A point not to be forgotten: Daequan Cook was 3 for 3 in 4 minutes of action. He came in with the team up by 3 and left with his team up by 7. In a game as close as this one ended up being, that +4 is huge. Role players knocking down jumpers goes a long way in these games.