Wild West roller coaster continues


SAN ANTONIO -- Tim Duncan has played 17 seasons. He's appeared in 228 playoff games.

But never has he been part of something like this.

"It's the craziest series I've ever been involved in," Duncan said.

Five games, five blowouts, the most recent coming in Thursday night's 117-89 rout for the San Antonio Spurs.

No game decided by fewer than nine points, and even that one was mostly lopsided with garbage time tightening up the score a bit. After the Thunder stormed their way to two convincing wins in Oklahoma City following the emotional return of Serge Ibaka, there was a feeling that they'd taken control of the series, that they simply had the Spurs' number.

But as this series has proven, anything you think you know, you don't actually know. Ibaka is back, but so are the Spurs, who flexed their systematic muscles to pull one game closer to a Finals return.

It was a return to what the Thunder experienced in Games 1 and 2, when they were flummoxed by the Spurs' precision ball movement. The Thunder weren't able to recreate the havoc that disrupted the Spurs in Game 4 as the ball effortlessly found the open man time and time again. The Thunder were in the game early, holding a seven-point lead with three minutes left in the first, and tied 32-32 after the opening 12 minutes.

"The first quarter was fool's gold," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "It's about playing every possession, and we didn't have that mentality tonight. We had that for 96 minutes the last two games. If we don't get that back, it's going to be a hard game to stop."

The series returns to OKC next, a house of horrors for the Spurs in recent years, where the Thunder have won nine straight. For whatever reason, for both teams in the series, home court has been an actual, decisive advantage. The glaring difference in San Antonio has been role players, specifically Danny Green. At home: 51 points on 17-of-27 shooting, including 15-of-23 from 3-point range. On the road: 11 points on 4-of-16, including 3-of-8 from 3.

"Obviously it seems like the home court motivates both teams pretty well," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said with his trademark sarcasm. "They both look pretty comfortable at home. So that's why we've opted not to go to OKC."

For the Thunder, they haven't been able to impose their physicality and intensity. Ibaka's return stabilized the Thunder on the defensive interior for Games 3 and 4, but some of that was lost on Thursday. The Spurs didn't crush OKC in the paint or anything -- they had 40 points there -- but worked the ball over the floor finding good shots almost every possession.

Part of that may have to do with the lineup tweak from Popovich to start Matt Bonner, while keeping two bigs off the floor at all times. It pulled Ibaka out of the paint and didn't allow him to lurk on the weakside to time up Spurs' drives. There was more space to attack the Thunder, and the Spurs took advantage of every bit of it.

"That's what they're known for," Reggie Jackson said. "I don't think it matters who plays. They could play five centers and they would still find a way to move the ball. It's just what they do, their system, and they're good at it."

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