OKLAHOMA CITY – For a team that has let a 2-0 in the Western Conference finals turn into a 3-2 deficit, the answers floating out of the Spurs’ morning shooting before Game 6 were quite simple.
Show up early.
The fact is that in three straight losses, the veteran team from San Antonio has allowed the young Thunder to set the tone in the first half.
“It’s not effort,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “Competitiveness is a little bit different. Physicality. I thought we just kind of followed them around in the first half and whatever they wanted to run we followed them and tried to guard them. They’re into us. They’re playing physical and I don’t think we did that in the first half. Guys are trying, but it’s a different thing than being physical and playing with a little bit of ugly.”
So to take a page out of Pop’s own book, the Spurs need some nasty?
“Yeah, that kind of stuff,” he said. “I’m trying to stay away from that word.
“I was surprised by it (in Game 5). We had a little talk at halftime and in the second half they came out and played the way they should play in the Western Conference finals as far as the physicality is concerned.”
Manu Ginobili will be back in the starting line and doesn’t expect any fatigue from his extended minutes in Game 5. Neither does he view the game as a last chance for the core of the Spurs’ lineup as a contender for the championship.
“You want me to say what Tony (Parker) said last year?” he asked, laughing. “It’s just another season. I believe that as long as we all play and we are all healthy, we are going to have opportunities every year. But of course Tim (Duncan) is 36 and I’ll be 35 soon and you can’t play this forever, so we know that the window is closing. It is a great opportunity and we want to grab it.”
At this point, with their feet dangling over the edge of the cliff, the Spurs should be way beyond strategy shifts and subtle changes. Just ask Stephen Jackson.
“We’re loose. We know what we can do. We know we can beat these guys and we are prepared,” he said. “We just got to go out there and do it. Enough looking at film, enough talking and saying what we need to do, we need nasty and all that stuff. We gotta go out there and play, point blank.”