Posts Tagged ‘Serge Ibaka’

Brooks and the power of continuity


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks with the media on Sunday afternoon

OKLAHOMA CITY – The fickle and volatile nature of the NBA coaching business swept aside four 50-game winners the last two seasons. Memphis’ Dave Joerger nearly became the fifth last month, and the second in a row with that franchise.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks‘ job security always seems to be a topic fluttering in the breeze. He’s overseen three Western Conference finals appearances in the last four seasons, yet his critics continue to howl. Saturday’s Game 6 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs ended a second season of falling short of a return to the Finals.

However, it didn’t stop the franchise’s superstar, the league’s MVP from endorsing his coach.

“That’s our guy,” Durant said of Brooks during Sunday’s exit interviews, “and I’m riding with him.”

It would seem owner Clay Bennett and general manager Sam Presti would, too, but then Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Vinny Del Negro and Mark Jackson — fired 50-win club members — are still tidying up their resumes.

That’s typically not the case for a coach who has won better than 70 percent of his games in each of the last three seasons. Brooks has two years left on his contract at what is believed to be between $8 million and $9 million. The Thunder are not a franchise that takes a cavalier approach to paying one man not to work while paying another to fill his position.

Yet, Mike Brown is out in Cleveland with $16 million owed to him.

Is it possible the Thunder believe Brooks has taken this team as far as he can?

“It’s something that I don’t even consider. I do my job every day,” Brooks said. “I’ve had a lot of valuable lessons in my life from my mother and she’s always told me this: You do your job every day and you live with the results. ‘They say,’ you can’t worry about what ‘they say'; you never ever meet those people. I have many stories that I can tell you about my mom and that’s one of them — don’t worry about ‘them.’ Those are the people that told me I wasn’t going to make it as a 4-11 freshman in high school. My dream was to be an NBA player. If I would have listened to ‘they’ I would never have been able to make it.”

Presti won’t listen to ‘they.’ He’ll make up his own mind, if there’s even a decision to make. He spent Sunday conducting exit interviews with players and he will soon talk with Brooks, who Presti hired as an assistant onto P.J. Carlesimo‘s staff in Seattle and then promoted when he fired Carlesimo after a 1-12 start in Oklahoma City.

Soon after, Brooks elevated No. 4 pick Russell Westbrook to starting point guard. If Brooks and Westbrook have anything in common, it’s that criticism never strays far.

“Ever since I’ve been here and Scotty became the head coach, he’s done a great job of having confidence in me personally,” Westbrook said. “There’s times where things have gone south and he’s the only one that always, always, regardless of what happened, always had my back; regardless of people saying I was doing this, I was doing that, I was being selfish, being that, he always was the first person to step up and have my back and support me regardless of what’s going on. He does a great job of always staying positive and trusting in our guys and trusting in each and every person we have and in the organization.”

Brooks said the Thunder’s No. 7 -rated offense must continue to evolve around his two superstars, to become a better passing team with higher assist totals and fewer turnovers and periods of stagnation.
“I know I have to get better and I know our team has to get better,” Brooks said. “And we’re excited about moving forward together as a group as the summer unfolds, and coming back in October with a better team.”

If scheme isn’t Brooks’ forte, as his critics will claim, forging relationships is a strong suit. He’s helped develop a team of talented youngsters at the ages of 20 into perennial contenders now at 25. Before the All-Star break, Durant called Brooks the coach of the year for steering the team through Westbrook’s multiple knee injuries.

The Thunder remain as well-positioned as any club to challenge for Western Conference supremacy for at least the next two seasons, and beyond that if Durant re-signs when he can become a free agent in the summer of 2016. Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka have three years left. Reggie Jackson is eligible for an extension this summer.

The 2013-14 season was a struggle from the start of training camp when Westbrook was told he needed a second surgery on his right knee. He tore the meniscus in the second game of the first round last season and missed the remainder of the postseason. Westbrook had to undergo a third surgery in December just as he and the team were rolling. He was out through the All-Star Game.

Then OKC lost defensive-specialist, and now unrestricted free agent, Thabo Sefolosha and starting center Kendrick Perkins each for six weeks with injuries.

The Thunder still finished with 59 wins and Durant won the MVP. They beat Memphis in the first round and Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers in the second round before falling to the Spurs. Both Westbrook and Perkins said the key area of improvement for next season isn’t personnel, but sharpening their mental approach to the game, specifically limiting careless turnovers that can turn a game or even a series against a team like San Antonio.

Changes will be made on the periphery of the roster, but the core is set for another run at a first title. It would seem the coach is, too, for a general manager and a franchise that place high value on continuity.

“You can easily say we lost the season because we didn’t win a championship,” Durant said. “But I don’t look at it that way because we learned so much throughout these years, throughout these last few months, especially, and it’s going to help us towards the future. When you look at it that way it stings not playing, but you also know that you’re just building the journey up, and hopefully one day you’ll look back at it and just enjoy what we went through.”


VIDEO: Scott Brooks talks about his future in OKC and more

24 – Second thoughts — May 31


VIDEO: Ginobili steps up in crunch time for the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Next man up.

The Spurs Way.

Sheer basketball beauty.

Explain it any way you can. But know this, the San Antonio Spurs were clearly meant for this, for this moment and for this rematch they have earned against the Miami Heat in The Finals — starting Thursday night in San Antonio.

You don’t go on the road for a close-out Game 6 against the MVP (Kevin Durant) and the force of nature (Russell Westbrook), lose your superstar point guard (Tony Parker) at halftime to ankle soreness and be anything but destined for The Finals.

Ultimately it was the ageless wonder that is Tim Duncan (aka The Big Fundamental, aka Old Man Riverwalk, aka Timmay, aka … you get the point) who went right at Serge Ibaka in overtime for the game-clinching baskets.

He had tons of help. Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and others chipped in to send this crew back to The Finals in back-to-back years for the first time in the #SpursWay era.

Heat-Spurs Round II is on … history in the making!

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Let’s do it again San Antonio and Miami … see you Thursday!

:2

They call it the #SpursWay my friend!

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Westbrook: Ibaka won’t be fooled again

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Spurs’ Game 5 strategy to use Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw as “stretch” power forwards to bait Thunder rim protector Serge Ibaka out of the paint worked just like Gregg Popovich drew it up.

Ibaka admitted the ploy threw him off, and he had his first dud since joining the Western Conference finals in Game 3. Yet any notion that the San Antonio’s two role players suddenly present an unsolvable riddle for the Thunder in Saturday’s do-or-die Game 6 (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) literally made point guard Russell Westbrook shake his head.

“They’re not the first stretch-4s that we’ve played,” Westbrook following the team’s morning shootaround. “We played Dirk [Nowitzki], LaMarcus [Aldridge], Kevin Love, all these different bigs that can shoot the ball at a high percentage, so we know what to do.”

Then Westbrook sort of chuckled thinking of Diaw and Bonner as being the type of gunners he had just listed.

“Boris Diaw, Bonner, man, they can shoot the ball, but that’s nothing we’ve never seen before. We know how to guard somebody that can shoot the ball. Serge knows what he’s supposed to do, we know what we’re supposed to do as a team, so we’re not worried about that.”

And there this was this final guarantee from Westbrook regarding Ibaka’s ability to make himself a presence in the paint in Game 6 assuming the Spurs continue to try to drag him away.

“He won’t be dragged away,” Westbrook said. “He’ll be locked in tonight.”

The home team has been the one locked in through the first five games of a series that coaches and players on both sides have punted on reasons why we’ve yet to see a fourth quarter that matters. Earlier in the playoffs, road teams were stealing games. The Thunder wrapped up their second-round series on the Los Angeles’ Clippers home court.

The Spurs, the regular season’s best road team, are only 2-5 on the road during the postseason going back to Game 3 of the second round at Portland. They’ve also lost nine straight, including blowout losses in Games 3 and 4 of this series, at the Thunder’s raucous Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City has won four consecutive home playoff games going back to their Game 1 loss in the second round.

HOME SWEET HOME

The home team has won every game in this series and has dominated all of the key statistics. A look at the Thunder’s production at home versus the road in the Western Conference finals:

Home      Road

FG%                  47.1            42.8

3FG%                34.2           28.2

OffRtg              111.5            94.6

DefRtg              95.6            125.0

FB PTS              16.5             9.3

PITP                   45.0           36.7

Opp PITP         38.0           53.3

Reb                     47.0           36.7

Blocks                9.0            3.0

Steals                 9.5             5.3

Popovich and Thunder coach Scott Brooks both say their teams’ energy and effort have dictated the wild fluctuations of this series more than game-to-game, or even in-game, adjustments.

The home team has simply played with more force and defensive determination for 48 minutes. Consider in their two home wins the Thunder averaged 9.0 blocks (3.0 on the road) and 9.5 steals (5.3 on the road). Those stats go hand-in-hand with their Jekyll-and-Hyde fast-break points that are so crucial to OKC’s offensive success: 33 in two home games compared to 28 in two road games.

Those turnovers and fast-break points work the Thunder crowd into a lather, turning an already hostile environment into one in which visiting teams feel as though the walls are caving in around them.

“Just because we’re home we can’t relax and think we’re automatically going to win because we’re at home,” Kevin Durant said. “This team [the Spurs] is looking to get to the NBA Finals, so we know how desperate they’re going to be to win the game, how hard they’re going to come out and play. We’ve got to match it. We know the circumstances.”

Spurs need to follow smart path


VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY — Going into Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, all coach Gregg Popovich wanted to see from his team was fire and aggressiveness.

Now with a chance to close out the Thunder on Saturday night (8:30 ET, TNT), what the Spurs probably need most is smarts.

“If we just want to play crazy and take quick shots, they’re going to beat us,” said Manu Ginobili. “They are more athletic, they are more talented. So we’ve really got to be sharp.”

There’s a good chance that Popovich will again open with Matt Bonner replacing Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup to spread the floor and open up space in the middle of the OKC defense with Serge Ibaka forced to chase on the perimeter.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks could make the next chess move by shifting defensive assignments, putting Ibaka on Tim Duncan to keep him closer to the basket. But that would also mean that Kevin Durant would have to take time guarding the sizable-but-quick Boris Diaw, who came off the bench to start the second half of Game 5 in place of Bonner.

Ginobili says Diaw has just the kind of veteran experience and wisdom that can make a difference.

“He’s smart, he knows how to pass, and he is a great combination of being a good shooter without shooting too much, and a driver, and can post up more as a player,” Ginobili said. “He’s very versatile, and you can change things up with him a lot, and looking at each other, we can make decisions on the fly.”

Morning Shootaround — May 31


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers-Heat rivalry never really existed | Your move Scotty Brooks | Composed Heeat dismantle Pacers, Stephenson | Phil Jackson asks ‘Melo to opt in, stick with Knicks

No. 1: Pacers-Heat rivalry? It never existedPaul George‘s less than rousing endorsement of “No. 1″ aside, the Indiana Pacers left Miami late Friday night filled with mixed emotions about finishing three straight seasons on the wrong side of the ledger against the Miami Heat. They’d call it a rivalry, their annual tussle with the Heat. Others, however, wouldn’t go that far. Not when the Pacers have fallen in this proposed rivalry in each and every battle that truly mattered. Michael Wallace of ESPN.com points out the differences between a rivalry and what amounts to bullying and why it’s time for everyone to move on:

Make no mistake about it: The Pacers were nothing more than a solid group of antagonists, instigators and irritants that pushed, poked and provoked Miami these past few seasons. But they were never really the Heat’s equal.

At least not when it mattered most.

The East might as well start taking applications now for a new so-called “rival” for the Heat. Because these Pacers were officially relieved of their duties after being dismantled and shoved aside in a 117-92 season-ending loss in Game 6 of the conference finals.

It’s clearly time to move on.

The Heat are headed to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season as they pursue a third straight championship. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have known no other outcome since they became teammates before the 2010-11 season.

And for the third postseason in a row, including two straight in the conference finals, the Heat propelled themselves into the championship round after breaking down and eventually stepping over Indiana. The Pacers are all too familiar with the bitter flavor they’ve had to taste after being served and dismissed by the Heat.

Considering some of their actions, antics and comments over the course of the series, I completely expected the Pacers to be defiant in defeat when their locker room was opened to the media after the game. But a team that’s been full of surprises and bucked expectations — both high and low — throughout a turbulent season was true to its unpredictable form late Friday.

It’s difficult to describe just how deflated the scene was inside the visitors’ locker room. As reality sank in that the season ended well short of expectations for the 56-win team that held the No. 1 seed in the East, the Pacers were things they hadn’t been all series.

Humbled.

Quiet.

Sullen.

Sadly accepting that their best, despite three seasons of motivation, isn’t good enough. Not against James and the Heat. Not back then, not now, probably not ever.

“We know what they’re going to do in these moments,” Pacers forward David West said of the Heat as he slumped into his stall and stared at the floor. “And [we] weren’t able to, again, match what they’re capable of. I thought they just were the better team. We got right back to where we got to last year, and they’re just a better team. They’ve got a gear that we can’t get to.”


VIDEO: LeBron and DWade at the podium for the 4th straight season after winning the Eastern Conference finals

(more…)

Emotions exposed in high-stakes series

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters: Thunder-Spurs Game 5

OKLAHOMA CITY – As the points mount in sudden flurries and push the fervor of the home crowd to maddening levels for the teeth-gnashing visitors, scenes of frustration have grown tenser and more emotional as this high-stakes Western Conference finals charges along.

Both arenas, the AT&T Center in San Antonio and Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City — the locals dubbed it Loud City years ago — have each become caldrons of frayed nerves and blown tempers in one of the more peculiar series in recent memory in which the home team has won all five games in a rout.

“This is the craziest series I’ve ever been involved in,” said Spurs star Tim Duncan, a veteran of 16 postseasons.

The two teams, though, are thought of as emotional polar opposites: The button-down Spurs exuding poise and professionalism; the hair-trigger Thunder being young, wild and always living on the edge. Yet neither team has escaped the other’s hostile arena with their emotions intact.

It’s easy to understand why. The Spurs, with the Big Three’s clock always ticking down on their championship window, are so close to a return to The Finals and a chance to seize the championship they let slip through their fingers a year ago that the pain of failing now would cut even deeper than the loss to the Heat. The Thunder, its stars both 25 years old, and Kevin Durant breaking through to win his first MVP, believe they would have been the team returning to The Finals for another showdown with LeBron James if not for Russell Westbrook‘s knee injury in the first round of the 2013 Playoffs. What was supposed to be a dynasty in the making is instead trying to stave off elimination.

This roiling undercurrent is setting off even the most composed.

In Game 4 at OKC, with the Thunder blasting the game open, Duncan screamed at his legendary coach, Gregg Popovich, Duncan animatedly gesturing with his arms before fixating his glare elsewhere and turning up the verbal heat on teammate Danny Green.

In Game 5 Thursday night back at San Antonio, Durant screamed at the clock operator when he wasn’t allowed to check in during a second-quarter stop in play. According to USA Today, Durant also engaged a Spurs fan after she yelled at him to sit down. The always volatile Westbrook got on Serge Ibaka over a missed assignment as the chance to back the Spurs into a corner evaporated along with the Thunder’s composure.

“Well, it’s the playoffs, it’s going to decide who goes to The Finals and who wins the Western Conference,” Durant said. “It’s going to be emotional, there’s going to be words, there’s going to be physicality. It’s been a crazy series, yes it has, as far as momentum and teams playing well at home. But in our case, we’ve got another 48 minutes to try to take this thing to a Game 7, and who knows what happens after that.”

During Game 2 in San Antonio, with the Spurs running and the crowd raising the decibel levels to mind-splitting, Westbrook glared at Durant after giving up an easy basket and jabbed his index fingers at each side of his head, a gesture meant to tell Durant to wake up.

Brooks said he doesn’t worry about his team becoming its own worst enemy during the course of a heated game. He said he takes it as proof his team is engaged.

“I know this is probably strange to say this, we’re always at our best when we’re on edge with one another because we are raising the bar high,” Brooks said. “We are competitive. We don’t want to let each other down. Just like when San Antonio had Duncan and Green, it happens everywhere. I know when we’re locked in defensively and our competitive spirit is at a high, our guys are ready to fight for one another and sometimes it takes a kick in the pants to get each other to do that.”

Spurs neutralize Ibaka, put Thunder on the brink

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses Serge Ibaka’s lackluster Game 5

SAN ANTONIO – Judging by how this Western Conference finals continues to unfold — bouncing from homecourt blowout to homecourt blowout — the Oklahoma City Thunder still may get a final shot to win a game here.

If they get that chance, though, they’ll have to pray for a miracle of the sort that brought the hobbled Serge Ibaka back in Game 3. But then, even the Ibaka magic faded Thursday night in San Antonio’s convincing 117-89 Game 5 win that gave the Spurs a 3-2 series lead.

For the first time in eight games with Ibaka on the floor — and for just the third time in the last 15 games dating to the 2012 West finals, when the Thunder stormed out of a 2-0 hole and blitzed San Antonio four in a row — the Spurs figured out how to beat Oklahoma City.

San Antonio’s AT&T Center, first without and now with Ibaka, has become a house of horrors for the Thunder. They’ve been crushed here by 17, 35 and 28 points in this series. Back home in OKC, the Thunder won Games 3 and 4 by a total of 22 points — though it could have been easily twice that much if not for some deficit-munching garbage-time.

“You really think I can explain that?” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich quipped.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks was at a loss, too, to explain the home-court blowouts. Brooks was first to make a lineup change in Game 3, getting Ibaka back from his calf injury and sliding guard Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup. It worked like a charm to get the series even.

Popovich countered in Game 5, removing the big-bodied Tiago Splitter, who had allowed Ibaka to camp in the paint and keep Tony Parker out. Matt Bonner started, but it was Boris Diaw, with 13 points and three assists in 28 minutes, who was trouble all night, stringing Ibaka out and finally opening the operating space the Spurs enjoyed in their first two home routs.

Tim Duncan benefited with 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting, and Manu Ginobili was magnificent again with 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting. San Antonio’s 3-point shooters had a field day, going 13-for-26.

The Thunder returned to San Antonio expecting a change, yet oddly Ibaka said he didn’t find out the 3-point shooting Bonner was starting until Kevin Durant told him five minutes before the game, likely long after most of the silver-and-black clad fans in the arena had already gotten the message.

“It just changed their offense a little bit,” said Ibaka, who has noticed little change in the condition of his ailing left calf after playing his third game in five days. “For us it was kind of a surprise. But I’m not going to make an excuse to say ‘surprised.’ When you’re a basketball player, you have to be ready to play no matter what. Now our focus needs to be on the next game, and now we know how they will play and who will start now. So I’m sure we’ll be ready.”

Ibaka missed his looks early and finished 3-for-10 for six points. He was pulled out of his comfort zone in the paint, where the Spurs made good on 20 of their 28 shots. He had only two defensive rebounds in more than 27 minutes.

“It’s tough, it’s a tough loss for us and you need to give them a lot of credit,” Ibaka said. “They played their best basketball. They were better than us. They were more aggressive, but this happens sometimes.”

Nothing’s come easy in this second season for the Thunder, and nothing was harder than Game 5 back in the raucous River City.

“We just didn’t play well across the board on defense,” said Durant, who had 25 points on 11-for-21 shooting, but was again limited at the free-throw line on the road, taking just four making only one. “They spread us out, hit 3s and we were late. We were just a step slow.”

If there is a theme to Thunder’s postseason, it’s been bouncing back. Memphis had them against the wall, 3-2, and the Thunder won the next two. Against the Clippers, Oklahoma City rallied from seven points down with 49 seconds to play in Game 5 and won the series in six.

The good news for the Thunder is that Game 6 of this series is Saturday night back in OKC, where the Spurs have been as lost as the Thunder have been here.  A win then for the Thunder sets up Game 7 on Monday, back in San Antonio, where the Spurs have now won seven straight by at least 15 points.

“Now we have to choose what we are going to give them,” Ibaka said. “… Are we going to give them the paint or … ? But I am sure we are going to do a better job in the next game.”

The season depends on it.

Spurs find it easier to be hard



VIDEO: Behind Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, San Antonio collects Game 5

SAN ANTONIO — Figuring out this wildly divergent Western Conference finals is getting harder than calculus after the Spurs’ 117-89 win over the Thunder on Thursday night gave San Antonio a 3-2 series lead.

There was a lineup change. There was a personality change.

There were tactical adjustments. There was an attitude adjustment.

The Spurs contested harder on defense. They battled harder for every rebound. They scrapped harder to come up with every 50-50 play. They worked harder at keeping the ball moving and at staying within their carefully constructed offensive identity.

And it worked for San Antonio. Again.

Five games in this series, five blowouts, all by the home team. The average margin of victory is 20.4 points. The Spurs have won their three home games by 26.6 points per game.

“You’re serious? You really think I can explain that?” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich asked.

For those obsessed by the Xs and Os, the Spurs replaced Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup with Matt Bonner and all through the game kept a stretch-four on the court to keep Serge Ibaka from making the low post and all of the paint his own personal dinner plate.

The Spurs switched defensive assignments, using the bigger Kawhi Leonard to block the tracks of the runaway train that can be Russell Westbrook and trusting Danny Green to give away a half a foot to league MVP Kevin Durant and not be overwhelmed.

They also made the most of Boris Diaw’s broad palette of skills, knocking down 3-pointers, moving shiftily inside for hoops and using a magician’s sleight-of-hand to slide the ball to all of his open teammates.

“It definitely helped,” said Tim Duncan, who broke free for a Throwback Thursday effort of 22 points and 12 rebounds. “Boris shot the ball really well and just the threat of Matt being out there, I think, helped us to keep [Ibaka] out of the lane a little bit and spread him out a little bit. It was a great move by Pop, a little adjustment there, and it obviously worked.”

But only because the Spurs also adjusted the way they played the game — going from lost and timid in OKC to ferocious and confident back home at the AT&T Center.

None of San Antonio’s best-laid plans would have meant a thing if Duncan hadn’t turned back the clock again to do practically hand-to-hand combat to get his dozen rebounds, if Leonard had not thrown off the dazed look of Games 3 and 4 to become locked in, if Diaw didn’t play perhaps the most feverish and significant playoff game of his career.

And if Manu Ginobili hadn’t once more bounced and banged all over the court like a funnel cloud clearing out everything in its path.

Often you can waste time trying to break things down to their smallest parts, rather than sit back and take in the beauty of the entire beast.

“Probably they were not aggressive and we were,” Ginobili said. “Today we were just sharp. We were smart and that’s what we were talking about. It’s the only way we have a shot.”

The Thunder are still younger, swifter and stronger and if the Spurs let them turn this into strictly an athletic affair, they won’t be making a return trip to the NBA Finals, even with the home-court advantage still in their hip pocket.

But a couple of possessions were a perfectly drawn blueprint of exactly what they must do:

  • Once Tony Parker drove the ball down under the basket, whipped a pass all the way back out top to Diaw, who gave a glance at the basket, but then passed the ball on to Leonard in the right corner for a 3-pointer.
  • On another occasion Ginobili raced downcourt in transition  while being dogged and contested by second year man Jeremy Lamb of OKC. He waited as Lamb got up in his face, then he waited some more while other Spurs caught up to the play and offered other options. He waited until Lamb finally took the bait and took a half-step away and then calmly and simply raised up and buried a killer 3 from the right wing.

The Spurs played smart. They played poised. They played hard.

None of that may translate to Game 6 on Saturday in OKC, where San Antonio has lost nine consecutive games. But two nights after not even running in a single fast break play in OKC, the Spurs outran the Thunder 14-4. They devoured the Thunder 48-35 on the backboards. They cleaned up on the inside with 17 second-chance points. For the first time in several years, they thoroughly neutralized Ibaka at both ends of the court.

“It was two things,” Popovich said. “What matters in a game is execution and mental toughness. You have to execute and you have to play with passion. So it’s like the old Dean Smith-Larry Brown thing — play harder than your opponent.”

The rest is easy.

24 – Second thoughts — May 29


VIDEO: Danny Green lets that shooting hand hang in the air after his fourth 3-pointer of the night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Throw that scouting report in the trash bin. Throw it away.

There is no explanation for what we’ve seen from the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Five games. Five cakewalks for the home teams. And a bunch of us trying to figure out how two teams could look so unbelievably good at home and then get their respective doors blown off away from home. 

It’s not just us either. It’s the same on the inside. The mighty Tim Duncan, a man whose been doing this for nearly two decades, admitted he’s never seen anything like this series.

“This is the craziest series I’ve been involved in,” he said.

Spurs coach and reigning NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich made his move for Game 5. He made his adjustment (Matt Bonner into the starting lineup for Tiago Splitter) and the lineup change did exactly what it was designed to do (specifics will not be shared by Pop), since the Spurs won the game.

Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills and the mighty Duncan all did their part to help the Spurs return to the same style and tempo they played in Games 1 and 2.

The average margin of victory in this series is a staggering 20.4 points.

Game 6 awaits in Oklahoma City Saturday night. Can the Thunder get more out of Serge Ibaka, the hero from Games 3 and, but an relative non-factor in Game 5.

Good luck figuring this series out by then …

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The Spurs revert back to form and get everyone involved, and things turned in their favor … and the night was, for most the part, antics free.

:2

Manu and the Spurs are one win away from a back-to-back trip to The Finals, a first in the Duncan-Pop-Manu-Parker era.

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Could be time for Spurs to tweak lineup


VIDEO: GameTime previews Spurs-Thunder Game 5

SAN ANTONIO -- It wasn’t just Serge Ibaka’s miracle trip to Lourdes or a visit to the gods of Thunder that turned around the entire look and feel of the Western Conference finals. OKC coach Scott Brooks also jumped guard Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup in place of Thabo Sefolosha and the offense has since been cooking.

While all of the official talk out of the Spurs’ camp the past two days has been about attitude and energy and determination, there is still speculation that Gregg Popovich could come back with a change of his own tonight for Game 5 (9 ET, TNT).

Would the Spurs consider benching Tiago Splitter and getting Boris Diaw’s outside shooting into the starting lineup to try to pull Ibaka way from the basket? Would they think about going small with Kawhi Leonard at power forward? And what of Cory Joseph and Matt Bonner, who came hustled off the bench in Game 4 to make the final score respectable?

“Ask him,” Manu Ginobili said, pointing to Popovich, when asked about lineup changes. “I’m not allowed to say anything.”

Popovich, of course, isn’t revealing anything, except to say, “we’re considering a couple of tweaks here and there, just in the plan. I don’t know exactly where that will be. But we saw some things that might warrant a little tweaking.”

Diaw told the media at Thursday’s shootaround that he was not starting. However, that means nothing.

Diaw did acknowledge that he was successful going against the Thunder’s small lineup in the first two games of the series.

“But since Ibaka came back, they don’t play small as much,” he said.  “So we actually like it when they play small. It’s when they play big that we have a hard time the last couple of games to score inside.  But whatever they give us we got to find a solution.”

Diaw said it makes sense to take advantage of his ability to score from the outside to possibly get Ibaka out of the low post, where he has disrupted and distracted the Spurs whenever they’ve gotten the ball into the paint.

“For sure,” he said. “Shooting from outside, he’s a guy that’s helping a lot so we got to try to keep him out of the paint.

“There are some open shots that we don’t take.  There are also some contested shots that we shouldn’t take, should be more patient, move the ball a little more so we can be open. We have got to pass the ball more. Because it’s what we have been doing all year. So we have got to find a way to move the ball enough so we get open shots.”

Perhaps one good tweak deserves another.