Russell Westbrook, who mauled the Spurs himself in Game 4, was somewhat held in check (21 points on 6-of-12 shooting, seven assists and three steals), unable to completely express himself on both ends of the floor.
Westbrook is the Thunder's tone-setter, an endless ball of supercharged energy that stays on the attack at all times. But with the Spurs carving up the Thunder on the offensive end, there wasn't much opportunity for Westbrook, or Kevin Durant, to impose their will.
Nobody was able to really find a good answer to explain why these five games have gone the way they have.
"You really think I can explain that?" was Popovich's response when asked.
The common theme has been the impact of playing at home, but until Thursday, Ibaka's absence in the first two games added a necessary qualifier. The Thunder have always had to get one in San Antonio to win the series, with it not mattering if it came in Game 1, 2 5 or 7. But as they return home, they're now facing elimination. The Spurs have shaken off the Ibaka problem, freeing their minds of the thought that the Thunder are unbeatable with him patrolling the paint.
The issue for the Thunder has been controlling the waves of offense the Spurs have poured on them. Durant and Westbrook had a few answers, but 46 combined points will never likely be enough to keep pace with the objective offense the Spurs run.
"We're guaranteed 48 more minutes," Durant said. "It's been an up-and-down series, but we've got to find a way to come with it in Game 6. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we've got to win one in San Antonio, but we've got to get the next game."
After the Thunder's two resounding wins in OKC, the flashbacks of the 2012 Western finals were beginning to hang over the Spurs like a dark storm cloud. That season, the Thunder won Game 5 in San Antonio, then finished it off at home in Game 6 to advance to the Finals.
But that talk is over with emphasis.
This time, as the series returns to OKC for Game 6, it's not about closing. It's about survival.