Posts Tagged ‘Thunder’

Hawks snag Sefolosha on 3-year deal


VIDEO: Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive wiz and the ultimate system guy for the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Some of Danny Ferry‘s best work as general manager of the Hawks has come during these summer months, when many of his colleagues are spending lavishly for players Ferry is busy bargain hunting for players who perfectly fit the Atlanta Hawks’ system.

Ferry might have found his latest gem in defensive wiz Thabo Sefolosha, who agreed to terms on a 3-year, $12 million deal earlier today, as first reported by RealGM.

Sefolosha, a starter in Oklahoma City the last five seasons, fills the void on the wings for the Hawks, who traded veteran reserve guard Lou Williams to Toronto earlier this week.  Sefolosha averaged 6.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 61 starts last season and served as Thunder’s defensive ace on opposing team’s best perimeter player.

The Hawks proved last year, their first under coach Mike Budenholzer, that they could plug different players into their system and get fantastic results. Paul Millsap earned his first All-Star nod in his first season with the Hawks while guys like DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, Pero Antic and Shelvin Mack had standout seasons. 

Sefolosha was a mainstay in that Thunder lineup during that franchise’s rise from lottery outfit to legitimate contender, working alongside the reigning KIA MVP Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.

The Hawks have an offensive specialist on the perimeter in veteran shooter Kyle Korver. Sefolosha gives them kindred spirit on the defensive side and a player versatile enough to fit into whatever small-ball, Spurs-lite scheme Budenholzer has in mind for the future.

Once again, Ferry is loading the cupboard with great fits at reasonable prices, the same as he did last summer when the Hawks were flush with cap space and spent wisely (if at all).

Losing Collison is not the only problem the Clippers are facing

Darren Collison's move to the Kings is just the beginning of the Clips' challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Darren Collison’s move is just the beginning of the Clips’ new challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

At least it is basketball adversity now instead of You Know Who turbulence. But it’s still the Clippers in what could become an increasingly difficult time, wanting to take the next step after reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season but seeing offseason challenges all around them.

Thursday, backup point guard Darren Collison jumped to the Kings for a three-year deal worth a reported $16 million and, he told Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, because “Sacramento is giving me the keys to help this team and try to turn it around.” The Kings gave him a clear path to the starting job, in other words, an important consideration for Collison while understanding he would always be behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles, not to mention a development Isaiah Thomas will obviously keep in mind as a restricted free agent who just saw his job in Northern California given away again.

If it was Collison alone, the Clippers could take a deep breath and move ahead with the conviction that they simply were not going to spend more than $5 million a season for a reserve behind the best point guard in the world. As much as Collison helped a 57-win team, they could grab another free agent for less with master recruiter Doc Rivers. The Clips will wish him well on the payday and the opportunity they could not match.

But if this turns out to be one of several hits, obviously depending on the outcome at backup point guard, the Clippers will have a lot more to prove than whether they can get beyond the second round.

These are also the days of Pau Gasol considering Oklahoma City and San Antonio as free-agent destinations, even though it would mean a bigger pay cut than he was already facing. The defending champs getting Gasol on the cheap or the Thunder landing Gasol at a bargain rate — that’s a problem for the rest of the league in general and in particular anyone trying to come up on them in the crowded West. The Clippers, and the Rockets and the Trail Blazers and the Warriors, need Gasol to chase the money more than the ring.

Plus, the Clippers continue to search for help at small forward. They drafted Reggie Bullock in the first round in 2013, but he wasn’t ready and, based on the phone calls being fired off to free agents, still isn’t. They signed Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu for the stretch drive last season, but that was a patch job with little chance to last into 2014-15.

So they’re still looking. Maybe Paul Pierce, Rivers’ guy with the championship Celtics, maybe others through free agency or trade, but small forward is essentially unmanned, to where Collison knew that opening was impacting his own place with the team.

“I was a priority for them to sign, but I wasn’t the top priority,” Collison said told the Register. “And that’s understandable.”

A few days into free agency and the Clippers are confronted with several issues, trying to solve their own issues on the wing and now at backup point guard while taking a seat in the front row of the watch party on Gasol’s decision. They still have time and money, but if the offseason goes bad, they will also have a lot of doubts to answer as camp opens. That’s understandable too.

LeBron’s genius is not in the details


VIDEO: LeBron James goes off for 35 points and 10 reounds in the Heat’s Game 2 win

SAN ANTONIO — Geniuses were put on this Earth to provide greatness, not details.

Ted Williams gave better lessons to opposing pitchers than to fellow hitters. Ben Hogan never did fully define how he made the golf ball talk.

So here is LeBron James, the virtuoso of his age, in the same predicament. He spins down the lane like a funnel cloud, daring anyone to stand in his path. He pulls up to sling in jumpers that might as well have come down the clouds. He waits, calculates like that Big Blue chess-playing computer, and makes exactly the right move by not taking the shot with the game hanging in the balance.

But ask the artist to recreate the magic on a blank canvas and he shrugs.

“Just play the game, try to play the game the right way,” he said.

The air conditioning was back working on Sunday night, but now they need to call in an electrician to the AT&T Center after James shot the lights out in Miami’s 98-96 win in Game 2 of The Finals.

The first time back on the court in The Finals after he had to be helped off the floor due to extreme heat and cramps, James was cooler than the other side of a pillow in enabling Miami to even the series at 1-1.

It’s not just the 35 points and 10 rebounds and the unstoppable run of 6-for-7 shooting in the third quarter, but the aplomb and the utter confidence with which he does it.

“Look, he’s the best player in the game,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Does that mean it’s going to be [35]? You don’t know. He has an incredible way of putting his fingerprints on a game in a lot of different areas.”

Those large fingerprints could be found mostly on the throat of Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ would-be defender, who fouled out almost helplessly in 31½ minutes.

In Leonard’s defense, what there was of it, there is virtually nothing anyone can do when the bullish, powerful James is making his outside shot. It was just a year ago in The Finals when the Spurs pretty much set up their entire strategy to do anything to keep him out of the lane and hoped that James would not catch fire from the outside.

But going back to Game 7 of last year’s Finals, when James erupted for 37 points in the clincher, he has made 21 of his last 41 (51 percent) shots from the perimeter. Which might mean that if you’re the Spurs, all you can say is: “Uh-oh.”

Of course, the NBA’s biggest stage has seen such star turns in the big spotlight before, mostly from the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, whose championship jewelry collections James is trying to match. Yet in both of those cases, it usually was Jordan or Bryant always yearning to take that final bow.

So here was another game on the line, Spurs up 93-92, and there was James sucking in the defense to him and zipping a pass to Chris Bosh, standing all alone in the right corner, who nailed the decisive 3.

It was the same play and the same pass that James made at the end of Game 5 in the Eastern Conference finals at Indiana, only Bosh missed the shot and the Heat lost the game. The same pass that got him criticized when the shot missed in the semifinals against the Nets. In fact, it was almost the identical pass that he was making as far back as his Cavaliers days in Game 1 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals at Detroit when he drove the lane and dished to Donyell Marshall, who also missed.

“He’s the most unselfish player I’ve ever played with,” Bosh said. “Especially with the talent that he has playing the game, the way he plays the game. He doesn’t, you know, try to force anything.

“Even if he is hot, he’ll still hit you if you’re wide open. And that’s what makes this team special, because your best player is will to sacrifice a shot, a good shot, for a great shot. You have to commend him for that.”

If only. James is, as he said, the easiest target in sports and has been since he showed up as a 15-year-old on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Chosen One.” It is the image and the life where we have seen far too much of sausage being made, that gets his guts and his character questioned because his ridiculously chiseled, super hero-looking body failed him and he had to watch from the bench for the last 3:59 of Game 1 as his teammates lost.

He spent another 72 hours as the sports world’s dartboard. He woke up Sunday morning and joined three other guests at the Heat’s resort hotel in an outdoor yoga class to loosen all of those muscles and then did everything but twist the Spurs in a lotus headstand variation. In a six-minute, third-quarter burst of six straight shots — 18, 25, 19, 26, 18 and 20 feet — James simply changed the game.

“It was that easy for me in the sense of don’t overthink it,” he said.

Don’t think twice about the criticism, the derision, the outright mockery that comes with being LeBron.

Don’t think once, even with a sizzling hand in the second half, about putting the ball and the game into a teammate’s hands.

“Not at all,” James said. “For me, when the ball is in my hands, I’m going to make the right play.”

The geniuses don’t bother with long explanations. They just do it.


VIDEO: LeBron James speaks with the media after the Heat’s Game 2 win over the Spurs

Morning Shootaround — June 1


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat welcomes another rematch | And still, it’s Tim Duncan | Thunder needs tweaks, not overhaul | Lots of Love in Beantown

No. 1: Heat welcomes another rematch — It was going to happen one way or the other. The Miami Heat, once they survived one familiar nemesis (Indiana Pacers) in the Eastern Conference finals, were going to face a familiar Finals foe as well, either their 2012 opponents (Oklahoma City Thunder) or the other guys from 2013 (San Antonio Spurs). Turns out, it is San Antonio, the team that Miami beat in seven games last June only after surviving the sixth one (thanks, Ray Allen!). Which probably is best for intensity, TV ratings, the Spurs’ shot at retribution and even Miami’s legacy should it manage to beat the great Gregg Popovich and his mighty trinity of stars for consecutive championships. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel offered the Heat side after the Western Conference clincher:

“Wouldn’t want it any other way,” Dwyane Wade said of having another opponent bent on settling a previous score. “Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Neither, apparently, would the Spurs.

“We’re back here. We’re excited about it,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said after the Spurs finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-107 in overtime in Saturday’s Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. “We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.

“We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths, still.”

Said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, “We worked eight months really hard. We had a really successful season. And all we did was to get back to this point.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Saturday night praised his team for showing the “fortitude” this season to not have a “pity party” after losing to the Heat in last season’s Finals.

“I think our guys, they actually grew in the loss last year,” he said.

The last time the Heat faced a Finals rematch, it wasn’t the desired outcome, with the Dallas Mavericks exacting revenge in the 2011 NBA Finals after falling to Wade and the Heat in the 2006 Finals.

“Hopefully, it’s not the same outcome as it was the first time around,” Wade said, with those 2011 NBA Finals remaining the only playoff series the Heat have lost since Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined together in the 2010 offseason. “It’s going to be a big challenge.”

Unlike that five-years-later Mavericks rematch, these upcoming Finals will pit opponents with largely the same rosters as last season’s Finals meeting.

“They’re going to feel more prepared for this moment,” Wade said, with the Heat playing as the road team in the best-of-seven series that opens Thursday, after holding homecourt advantage last year against the Spurs. “It’s going to have its own challenges.”

Having survived the Spurs in a compelling series last season salvaged by Ray Allen’s Game 6 3-pointer, the Heat exited AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday night poised for the 12th Finals rematch since the league’s first title series in 1947. Of the 11 Finals rematches to date, there have been seven repeat winners, including, most recently, Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz of Karl Malone and John Stockton in 1997 and 1998.

Wade said getting back to the championship series never gets old, no matter the road traveled, no matter the familiarity with the opposition.

“We’re just going to continue to try to enjoy this moment that we’re in because it’s an amazing moment,” he said. “It’s something that, for a lifetime, is going to fulfill us as athletes.

“Even when we can’t play this game, we’re going to always be able to talk about this.  So we just want to continue to add to what we’re accomplishing.”

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The Duncan Experience keeps growing


VIDEO: Duncan comes through in the clutch to send Spurs to NBA Finals

OKLAHOMA CITY — Experience is the name men give their mistakes.

The Spurs have had nearly 12 months to learn from their very biggest.

On the first day of training camp back in October, coach Gregg Popovich showed them the video of everything that had slipped through their grasp last June in Miami.

As if they needed a reminder.

“It was just to put it away, get over that part of it, learn from it and move on from there,” said Tim Duncan.

So they’ve moved full circle, like the Earth around the sun, and here was Duncan, one of the immutable forces of basketball and nature, completing that orbit.

He’s done it so many times in the past– those critical rebounds, those key baskets, those difference-making plays — that you tend to nod your head and move on.

The official play-by-play sheet called it a 5-foot turnaround and the guy who typed that up probably would have called Rome just a city on some hills.

The Spurs had just a one-point lead when Manu Ginobili found him with the pass that OKC’s Russell Westbrook tried to swipe at and missed. Westbrook went around and underneath the play and took another swing at the ball and missed again down low. Duncan then rose up, let go with the turnaround over the outstretched arms of Reggie Jackson, but not before Westbrook took one more try and fanned one more time. The ball bounced off the front rim, kissed off the backboard and fell into the net.

“Finally got a roll,” Duncan said.

After four previous championships and five prior trips to the last series in June, the Spurs finally are making back-to-back trips to The Finals and it’s most important to be getting their chance to make up for the agonizing loss against the Heat.

The Spurs did it down the stretch without their starting point guard and best player Tony Parker, who was sidelined at halftime with a sore left ankle.

The Spurs did it against a Thunder team that probably had the two best individual talents in the series in Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The Spurs did it with balance and patience and poise and trust and with a few of the usual tricks from Old Man Riverwalk, who at 38, is still pulling out those tried-and-true basic moves that keep working in every lunchtime game in every YMCA from sea-to-head-faking sea.

Duncan was 2-for-2 in the overtime with a pair of rebounds and scored the seven consecutive points that ultimately lifted the Spurs to the 112-107 victory over the Thunder and the Western Conference title.

As he’s done so often for 17 NBA seasons, Duncan was there to make the plays and do the heavy lifting at the end, which was particularly poignant in a year when the Spurs carried their burden.

“We just had a weird year,” Duncan said. “We were pressing hard early on and grinding on each other, just because of what happened last year.

“We were able to settle ourselves down. We played with a bunch of different lineups all year long. We had guys ready to play and it’s shown throughout these playoffs where guys just step up and step in and are ready.

“I’m proud of the team for just being ready, just not letting that weigh on us and using it as an excuse for anything. We’re back here now and we want to get it done this time.”

When the Thunder had used their young legs and a wave of youthful enthusiasm to win two straight games on their home court to tie the series, there was some thought that the Spurs were finally ready to pass into history.

Instead Duncan kept right on making it by hitting 14 of 27 shots, scoring 41 points and grabbing 27 rebounds in the last two games to keep the door closed on what is supposed to have been the ushering in of the Thunder Era.

“You know that he might be struggling one game or missing a few shots,” Ginobili said. “But he’s there and the opponent has got to respect him. He’s always ready with a solution down the stretch.”

As ready as he has been for nearly two decades in the league. As primed for this moment as since the last second that ticked off the clock last June in Miami.

“It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after exactly that, that devastating loss we had last year,” Duncan said. “But we’re back here and we’re excited about it and we’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”

Tim Duncan has had enough experiences.

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!

:1

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

:2

They call it the #SpursWay my friend!

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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

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Morning Shootaround — May 30


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sale price of Clippers shocks the world | Spurs smart enough to fear what they know | Welcome to West’s neighborhood for Game 6 of Heat-Pacers | Curry on board with Kerr, still getting over Jackson firing

No. 1: Clippers $2 billion sale price causes sticker shock — Stunning. That is the only way to describe the sale price of the Los Angeles Clippers, a robust and record $2 billion from would-be-owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. As if the Clippers’ saga couldn’t get any crazier, word leaked out Thursday evening and the reaction from the Southland and beyond has been a collective dropping of jaws that the Sterlings (Donald on the sidelines according to reports and his wife Shelly as the point person) are going to make off with billions. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times provides some context:

The Clippers curse has been at least temporarily swallowed up by the Clippers purse, which was bulging with Thursday’s news that the team has been sold to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

Leave your jaw on the floor. It’s all true. The Clippers. Two billion bucks. No NBA championships. Two billion bucks. No appearances in the conference finals. Two billion bucks. No league most valuable players, no Staples statues, and no real national love until their owner became the most disliked man in America. Two billion bucks.

We all know how Donald Sterling feels about blacks. Now we’ll find out if he has a higher opinion of green.

The deal was brokered by Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling and, depending on whom you ask, may need approval by her husband. Donald Sterling has been banned from the league for making racist remarks on an audio recording that also led the NBA to vow to strip his family of ownership.

Representatives for Donald Sterling have claimed that he won’t give up the team without a fight, but here’s guessing that getting $2 billion for a team that cost him $12.5 million in 1981 — a team he mostly ran like a true Clip joint — would be enough to convince him to slink away.

The NBA would have to then approve Ballmer as an owner, but here’s guessing that would also not be a problem considering he was already vetted last year when he was part of a group that attempted to buy the Sacramento Kings.

So the good news is that there are now 2 billion reasons for the Sterlings to disappear. But the uncertain news is, what does that price mean for the team they are leaving behind? In other words, are the Clippers really worth $2 billion? How on Earth can even a brilliant former Microsoft boss crack the code to make this kind of deal work?


VIDEO: TNT’s David Aldridge discusses the latest in the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers

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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.