Boris Diaw shed the years, and the pounds, sending them flying across the AT&T Center court.
He was no longer a pudgy, past-his-prime reserve forward Thursday night during a spine-tingling sequence in the second quarter, elevating to block a dunk attempt by Kevin Durant.
Diaw then gave up what looked like an easy shot underneath the basket on the San Antonio Spurs’ next possession, skipping a pass to teammate Kawhi Leonard in the corner for an open three-pointer.
It epitomized the kind of heady play and nonstop energy the Spurs needed to turn back the Oklahoma City Thunder, 117-89, in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
“He’s been scoring the ball really well,” San Antonio forward Tim Duncan said of Diaw. “But just his high IQ as a basketball player is what’s really changed the series for us.”
Diaw’s statistics were fairly modest, the veteran finishing with 13 points, six rebounds and one block. But his floor-spacing presence and unselfishness helped the Spurs get back to their brand of basketball after a pair of sluggish defeats.
They will take a 3-2 lead into Game 6 on Saturday in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder has defeated the Spurs nine consecutive times.
Duncan had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Manu Ginobili scored 19 points off the bench for the Spurs, who continued the series-long trend of the home team winning in blowout fashion. The average margin of victory in each game has been 20.4 points.
“This is the craziest series I’ve ever been involved in,” Duncan said.
Durant scored 25 points and Russell Westbrook had 21 points and perhaps the best dunk of the playoffs on a one-handed, backboard-rattling jam, but they received meager support. Thunder guard Reggie Jackson scored 11 points in the first quarter but went scoreless the rest of the game.
With the Spurs comfortably ahead, Westbrook sat out the game’s final 8 minutes 50 seconds, joining Durant on the bench.
San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich was in classic deadpan mode before the game when asked how his team could stop the Thunder from running as it did in Game 4, when it outscored the Spurs, 21-0, in fastbreak points.
“Make more baskets,” Popovich said. “Don’t turn it over. Those would be two good places to start.”
San Antonio did both. The Spurs committed only 12 turnovers and made 39 of 76 shots (51.3%), including 13 of 26 (50%) from beyond the three-point arc, their efficiency limiting the Thunder to four fastbreak points.
“They spread us out, hit threes and we were late,” Durant said. “We were just a step slow.”
Popovich started Matt Bonner in place of Tiago Splitter in an effort to better space the floor and draw Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka farther from the basket. Ibaka finished with six points and two blocks, hardly resembling the series-altering presence he was in Games 3 and 4.
Diaw’s strong play in the second quarter prompted Popovich to reinsert him to start the third quarter, when the Spurs turned a competitive game into a 20-point rout.
It almost seemed as if it were 2006 again as the 32-year-old Diaw found Duncan underneath the basket for a layup and then Leonard in the corner for the three-pointer. Diaw explained he was merely fulfilling Popovich’s mandate of going from “good to great” opportunities.
“One of my teammates was wide open,” Diaw said, “so we’re looking for the wide-open guy.”