Playing smart more important than playing at home for Spurs

Remember those Spurs of about a week ago? You know who we’re talking about. They were smiling and cutting, driving and kicking, D-ing up and laying it up. You know the guys that were winning.

Yeah, it’s hard to remember what they once looked like.

The jaunt through Oklahoma City went over about as well as Sean Lee’s MRI. The Spurs return to the Alamo City torn. Whether the mental injuries sustained in Games 3 and 4 are repairable, well, that’s the issue going into Thursday night.

"I don’t know what it is, but we need to fix it quick, and go home and try to turn it around," Tim Duncan said.

Contrary to the OKC carnage, not all was lost north of the Red River. The Spurs maintain the homecourt edge in a series tied 2-2. Just take care of business at AT&T Center and a return trip to the NBA Finals is booked.

Being home is not a cure-all, but it’s a start.

"It’s not going to settle things down," Duncan said. "We have to make it happen. We fight all year to have this homecourt advantage, so it’s cliche. It’s a three-game series now. We play two of them at home at least. We’re going to go in there and right the ship a little bit.


"Our second team did a heck of a job showing us what worked. Our first team did play very well, but those guys finished up the game strong. Hopefully, we can build on that."

Ah yes, that second-unit hope. Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner, Aron Baynes and friends enjoyed some surprising success in the second half after the Thunder built a 27-point lead. Whether that means the Spurs found something to build on is debatable.

The better bet is a Thunder letdown. OKC had the game won, regardless of a late surge from San Antonio’s reserves. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka made certain of that against the Spurs of record. The likes of Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard witnessed the onslaught firsthand while on the hardwood.

What they saw was criminal. The Thunder hit and ran away from the Spurs in the first half. San Antonio piled up one-and-done possessions when Westbrook wasn’t ripping the ball free for breakaway dunks. The Spurs didn’t get to the foul line until less than six minutes remained before halftime. They didn’t have a fastbreak point — for the game.

And the Spurs forays inside were even uglier. San Antonio must have set a record for ineffective pump fakes in the first half.

"Instead of hitting open people that are out there, we started attacking the rim unwisely, and that turns into blocked shots," Gregg Popovich said. "We had seven turnovers in the first half, but really 14 because of the seven blocks. Those are all like turnovers."

Popovich bristled at the suggestion that the Spurs need to make adjustments for Game 5.

"You’ve got to play smarter against such great athletes," he said. "They’re talented obviously, but the athleticism and the length gives you a small margin of error. And you’d better be smart the way you play and you can’t afford to screw that up as many times as we did.

"And I think we have to play harder. I think they’re playing more physically than we are. They’re still getting more 50/50 balls, and playing with more determination than we did in these two games."

Ginobili echoed Pop’s thoughts. The Spurs take pride in their basketball acumen. San Antonio doesn’t overwhelm anyone with athleticism, especially teams of the Thunder’s ilk, so precision and execution are even more important.

"We have got to be way smarter and sharper," Ginobili said. "If we let them push us around and we are not strong with the ball, that is when they get us on our heels and we stop attacking the way that we do.

"We know we have got to play games close to perfection. We said it already and the first two were really sharp. After that we kind of stopped in both games here; they just outplayed us in a really evident manner, I guess. We are just going to have to do so much better in San Antonio to have a shot."

The Spurs understand what needs to be done against a rejuvenated squad that smells blood. If they don’t figure it out fast, Game 6 could be the wrong sort of closeout game.

"It’s a great challenge, and they’re playing well against us," Parker said. "We just have to play better, and there’s no excuse. We’re a no excuse team. We just have to go out there and play better. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s the Western Conference finals, we’re playing a great team and going back home. We just have to find a way to win."

Follow Art Garcia on Twitter @ArtGarcia92