Thunder defeats Spurs to take 3-2 series lead
SAN ANTONIO — The growing-up moments came for Oklahoma City’s youngsters in rapid-fire succession, as if they were in a time-lapse photo.
One minute and 36 seconds left: Russell Westbrook makes a 17-foot jump shot, shrugging off a horrid fourth quarter in which he had committed three turnovers.
Twenty-eight seconds remaining: James Harden buries a fadeaway three-pointer, the last in a series of big shots that also included a four-point play.
Less than one second to go: Kevin Durant, calm in the most dire circumstances, caps another superlative performance with two free throws.
Dismissed by many as at least a year away from overtaking the veteran San Antonio Spurs, the precocious Thunder continued to trumpet its arrival in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
Oklahoma City’s 108-103 victory on Monday night at the AT&T Center gave the Thunder a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series it could close out with a victory in Game 6 on Wednesday in Oklahoma City.
“We never thought that we were supposed to wait our turn,” said Durant, who finished with 27 points to help his team become the first in the series to win a road game. “We always wanted to go and take everything.”
The series is the Thunder’s for the taking after it sustained wild swings in momentum and 34 points from Manu Ginobili in a rare start. The veteran guard had a chance to tie the score in the final seconds after Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard harassed Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha into a turnover.
But Ginobili’s leaning three-pointer with 4.9 seconds left was off the mark and San Antonio was left to contemplate a season that is trending heavily in the wrong direction. Recently the winners of 20 consecutive games, the Spurs have lost three straight for the first time since late in the 2010-11 season.
As if to reinforce the Spurs’ predicament, Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out” blared through stadium loudspeakers after the game.
“It’s not that we have a Game 8 or 9 to recover,” Ginobili said, “so it’s either win or go home.”
If history is any gauge, the Thunder’s edge in the series might feel larger than one game. In previous conference finals that were tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner went on to advance to the next round 35 of 45 (77.8%) times.
Westbrook finished with 23 points and 12 assists and was so intense he made sure to block a shot by Danny Green. Nothing unusual about that except the shot came well after the halftime buzzer.
Harden scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, including a four-point play in which he was fouled by Ginobili while making a three-pointer.
“There were times in this game where we could have folded,” Harden said.
Like late in the fourth quarter.
Things were starting to resemble the Thunder’s Game 1 meltdown when San Antonio shaved a 13-point deficit to two with the help of three consecutive turnovers by Westbrook.
Only this time, the ending was different.
“Our team showed mental toughness,” Westbrook said. “Everybody stayed together.”
Tony Parker had 20 points and Tim Duncan logged 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs. It wasn’t nearly enough.
Durant said he was playing for a hospitalized uncle. He’s also playing for a city that has embraced a team on the verge of its first NBA Finals since it was wearing the green and yellow of the Seattle SuperSonics.
“We’ve just got to keep pressing, man,” Durant said. “We’ve got one more game to go to advance, so hopefully we get it.”