Thunder-Spurs Preview

In the span of three days, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the

San Antonio Spurs as many times as they had in the last three


And now the Western Conference finals are suddenly up for


What once seemed like the continuation of one of the most

dominant runs in NBA history has turned into a genuine toss-up of a

series after the Thunder stopped San Antonio’s perfect stretch with

two convincing victories in half a week.

Game 5 is Monday night in San Antonio. Oklahoma City needs at

least one road win to advance, and Thunder coach Scott Brooks said

Sunday there’s no time like the present.

”We have a great opportunity in Game 5,” Brooks said.

Seldom have the Thunder been able to say that when they faced

the Spurs.

Since James Harden joined Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in

2009, the Thunder had been 2-8 against San Antonio heading into

this series. Now they return to Texas with a chance to hand the

Spurs three straight losses for the first time all season.

”We’ve just got to go down there with the mindset that we’re

going to play hard every possession, play together like we’ve been

playing these last few games, and we’ll see what happens,” said

Durant, who is averaging 29 points this series after scoring 36 in

Game 4 on Saturday. ”We’ve just got to keep believing, man. We’ll

be fine.”

Spurs players didn’t meet with reporters Sunday. Coach Gregg

Popovich, back at Spurs headquarters trying to solve his team’s

first skid since April 9-11, said their attitude hasn’t changed

from when they were winning 20 straight games.

Also not likely to change much are the defensive looks the Spurs

threw at the Thunder in a 109-103 loss on Saturday. That’s because,

as far as Popovich is concerned, there is little to plan for when

three typically unheralded offensive players shoot a combined 22 of

25 for 49 points.

That’s what Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison did

in Game 4, giving the Thunder a rare dose of balance on a team that

leaned on its Big Three for nearly 70 percent of its scoring before

this series. Ibaka was especially unstoppable, going 11 for 11 and

finishing just one basket shy of the most perfect-shooting playoff

game in NBA history.

”Maybe they’ll do it again, but I don’t think so,” Popovich

said. ”We’ll play the same defense, and if they don’t shoot as

well it won’t be because of our defense. It’ll be because they

don’t do as well.”

Then there’s Durant. Popovich called him ”arguably the best

player on the planet” on Sunday after the three-time NBA scoring

champion turned in the most magnificent playoff game of his career,

scoring 18 in the fourth quarter in the breakout game the Thunder

were waiting for this series.

Among those tasked with the increasingly impossible task of

slowing down Durant was Spurs forward Stephen Jackson, who said

”it was kind of too late” to stop the 23-year-old superstar by

the time he got rolling. As far as Oklahoma City’s big men emerging

as new scoring threats, Jackson said most of their looks are ones

the Spurs will take their chances on.

Popovich also wouldn’t commit Sunday to using DeJuan Blair more

back home after finally taking his longtime starting center off the

end of the bench Saturday. Blair, whose mobility and relentlessness

has historically given the Thunder fits, played his most meaningful

10 minutes of the playoffs since the opening round against


Popovich said Blair ”did a good job” but his role in Game 5

would depend on how things are unfolding.

It’s not the first time a streaking Spurs team has gone from

being toasted to the brink of trouble. In 2004, the Spurs went up

2-0 on the Lakers in the West semis and extended a winning streak

to 17 games before dropping the next four.

The Thunder are 7-0 at home in the playoffs and 3-3 on the road.

Oklahoma City held first place in the West for nearly the entire

season before being overtaken by the Spurs in the final weeks,

thereby losing home-court advantage.

Having tied up the series at home, Brooks said Sunday there are

no new regrets about the top seed slipping away.

”It’s always nice to have it,” Brooks said. ”I said a month

and a half ago, I don’t think we blew the No. 1. I think San

Antonio, they won just about every game.”

They’re not anymore.

AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to

this report.

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