The NBA Dribbled Out

Game 7: Boston at Miami

I let this game 7 sink in for a bit longer than usual before this recap. This was an issue of timing for me, but also the importance of (most likely) the last game for Boston’s Big Four as a unit and, consequently, the seemingly unfettered path to the Finals this will allow Miami over the next two years (I’m pretty sure Derrick Rose is pinning all these Heat articles up on his fridge as he rehabilitates his knee, so just be forewarned Heat bros) The game begged for me to try and give some new context or at least a strident effort to explain why this game was so damn incredible. Not only that, but the hype before the game didn’t cause the game itself to be ruined. In fact, I’d say the game out-did the hype, which seemed impossible in the lead-up to the battle.

The game itself featured some incredible displays of talent from Miami’s Big Three; together at last as Bosh has—if not fully—recovered from the abdominal strain that kept him out of the entire Indy series and the first 4 games of these Conference Finals.  But Boston’s Big Four also provided the steady play that’s allow them to vivisect the running narrative this season that they were too old; Boston’s entire starting line-up would score in double figures. But it wasn’t just the stats or the lines—particularly Rondo’s tenth career playoff triple-double (tying him with Larry Bird for 3rd place on the all-time list), or even the individual plays—like Wade’s 3-point play or LeBron’s 30 foot jumper as the shot clock wound down. No, it was the stretch from around mid-way int the 3rd quarter and to mid-way of the 4th where both teams traded baskets and stops, which gave fans, even casual basketball fans, a helluva game 7; a game 7 I’ll remember for the rest of my life; a game worthy of it’s game 7-ness; a game that makes watching basketball so fruitful an endeavor. 

The Celtics got out to a 7-point first half lead, even after LeBron’s boundless game 6, he had been largely quiet in the first half of game 7. I stupidly went on Twitter, and the choking narrative was peaking its ugly head out as writers and reporters prepared their stories for today. That 7-point Boston lead did not last. With 7:13 left in the 3rd, a Dwyane Wade jumper from just inside the 3-point arc, tied the score at 59 and the game took off. 

The Celtics took the lead, then the Heat tied it; the Celtics again took the lead by 1, then the Heat took the lead by 1; then the Celtics took the lead by 1 followed by the Heat taking the lead right back. It was as back and forth as you’ll find on any basketball court in the world. Guys just kept making plays. Rondo scored 10 of his 22 in the quarter and a well-rounded Heat team saw Battier knock down 2 huge 3-pointers, Haslem had a bucket, Chalmers had 6 and so did LeBron; Wade had 5 and Bosh hit a long jumper to tie the score heading into the 4th. It was a humble reminder the Heat role players aren’t always as terrible as we think, and it set the stage for a final 12 minutes of basketball that would determine the fate of both franchises.  

The frenetic pace and constant lead changes continued in the 4th, but this time the Heat’s offense was all their big 3. As Wade said after, “this is why we came together,” and they truly brought the game home for the Heat—starting with LeBron somewhat overcoming his 4th quarter/Boston/Dallas demons from years past. With 8:48 remaining, Ray Allen hit a 3 to put Boston ahead, 82-81. 

LeBron came down and missed a 3, and most die-hard NBA spectators groaned at the prospect of another abysmally shooting 4th quarter for LeBron where 3’s are jacked and the post is ignored. Except, that’s not really what happened; although, part of game 6’s excellence was the realization by LeBron that muscling to the rim and establishing position in the post makes him nearly impossible to defend. He learned from that experience, and pushed it in the 4th. After Ray Ray missed a second 3 on the ensuing drive, LeBron put a cross-over on Brandon Bass in a semi-transitional where Boston’s defense wasn’t set, and unleashed a soaring dunk to give Miami back the lead. 

Wade stole the ball from Pierce on the next Boston possession. Neither team had led by more than 2 until there was 7:13 left in the gmae and Bosh sank a 3-pointer from the short corner (his second of the game) to put Miami up 86-82.

So, starting at the 7:16 mark of the 3rd, and continuing to the same place in the 4th, the lead never grew more than 2 points before the other team came right back to tie or go up again. It was simply insane, and one of the most enjoyable stretches of basketball I’ve ever been witness to. In case you didn’t already know, I’ve watched a lot of basketball.

After Boshs corner 3, James came back. Pierce’s lay-up attempt was blocked by Shane Battier, and James hit a nice shot at the rim to extend the Miami lead to 6 with 6:50 to play. It was nice to see James totally involved and rising to the moment instead of hanging out by the 3-point line and waiting for the game to come to him. He’ll have to take over just as much in the Finals, so we’ll see if this continues, but if you’re a Heat fan you have to be happy by what you’ve seen from James in games 6 and 7 (in terms of offensive-aggressiveness). But regardless of James’ newly found motivation to take over and force the defense to react to him, the Celtics were a feisty bunch that wasn’t going away. 

After another Rondo assist led to Brandon Bass’ only field goal attempt (a made 20-footer) in the second half (he scored 14 to lead Boston in the first 24 minutes), the ball came back to Miami, up only 4 and causing a massive panic in South Beach not seen since Pablo Escobar was gunned down in Columbia and you had to start paying $20 more for a gram of the fine white. That’s when LeBron had his moment: with the shot clock winding down, he came off a very high screen around 32 feet from the basket. He pulled up and drained a 31-foot jumper to give the Heat a 7 point lead with 5:43 to go in the game. 

It took the wind out of the sails of Boston’s gutsy group and hopefully eases some of the foolish writing about LeBron’s end-of-game passivity. But after LeBron missed a long jumper and Rondo got a hustle basket by out-running LeBron to a loose ball, we all realized the Celtics still would not stay down.

Then that other guy for Miami decided to show up, which is a good thing too because at this point I’m not sure LeBron had anything left in the tank. He’d been integral in Miami’s staying with Boston through that quarter-long back and forth, but he needed Wade to handle it in the last 5 minutes. He got them there, but his already-legendary 31-footer were his last points of the night not including a meaningless free throw later (he finished with a ho-hum 31 points—11 in the 4th—12 rebounds and 2 assists). Dwyane Wade was ready—since it was the end of the game and that seems to be the only time Wade attacks these days.

After Rondo’s lay-up with 5:13 cut the Heat lead to 5, Spoels called a timeout. Out of timeout, Bosh got an easy bucket in the lane off a nice LeBron pass; Wade made a pretty little runner in the lane; after Rondo was blocked, Wade made a move inside, then pulled up for a jumper. He was fouled, and after bouncing off every piece of the iron, the ball fell through. 

With 2:53 remaining, Wade’s free throw extended the Heat lead to 12 and the fans were finally starting to breathe again. No one scored again until LeBron was fouled with 1:23 remaining and made 1 of 2 to push the lead to 13. Rondo hit a 3 with  to cut the lead to 10, but it was with under a minute to play and the game was over. The Miami Heat move on to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals, which starts on ABC at 9 p.m. EST this Tuesday in Oklahoma City. 

The Celtics are most likely done, and not just for the season. Allen and Garnett’s contracts end this summer, which just started for them. Danny Ainge is most likely going to let them go unless they sign for substantially less money than they were making before. Considering Garnett’s incredible play in the postseason this year as the Celtics center, it’s conceivable some helpless franchise offers his 36 year-old body a max deal and the Celtics would be fools to match it. Allen, having been hobbled by injuries all year—including the playoffs—may retire or catch on with a team that needs his experience and 3-pointing shooting. 

Rondo and Pierce will likely remain and start the uphill-battle to re-tool before again taking on the best in the East. I freakin’ loved this Celtics group and you can be sure Red Auerbach is up in heaven pissed off as all hell the Heat triumvirate’s big 4th quarter got the win. This Celtics group was cast in the mold of Larry and Russell before them; they won and played as a team. They were so tenacious and so damn confident when everyone else in the country had written them off. It’s likely we’ll never see a collection of hall-of-game talent like this in a while and especially not one that plays together so well as they did.

They will be missed by many inside and outside Boston (actually, maybe just me outside of Boston). Now it’s on to the finals for Miami where everyone will again be rooting against them. That’s because it’s gonna be the dream ESPN/ABC scenario as Durantula and ‘Bron square off. I’m already tired of the 1 on 1 angle since it’s a team game, but I’m as excited as the rest of you to tune in. 

Final: MIAMI HEAT 101 - Boston Celtics 88

The Heat win the series 4-3


Game 6: Miami at Boston

I did not see that game from ‘Bron coming. I don’t think anybody did. If last year’s Finals game 6 in Miami was any indication (it’s the only othe time this Heat team has faced elimination before tonight), the Heat would fold faster than you can say Rajon Rambo 10 times fast. Plus, tonight they were in the __ Garden with an acerbic crowd hungry for their team to finally do away with these pretenders from the beach.

Bron started unbelievably hot then just kept hitting jumpers and had cracked 30 at half. He had 11 more in the 3rd including this trey with 2:29 left in the period when Boston had cut the lead to 10.

He finished with 45 points on a Dirkian 19/26 shooting (2/4 from 3), 15 rebounds and 5 assists. It’s the performance everyone in Miami has been aching for since the Celtics started their 3-game win streak after game 2; it’s a performance most everyone will forget if the Heat don’t win game 7 at home on Saturday night; it’s a performance everyone will point to as proof he’s not clutch if James doesn’t play well on Saturday night; Primarly, it was a performance that turned the last 6 minutes of the game into bench time for most of the Celtics players.

Even though Rondo didn’t score as much in the second half, he still finished with 21 points and 10 assists to lead the Celtics. Paul Pierce was awful, possibly flatulent, and that’s really where the Celtics lost pace with ‘Bron. It’s not like Pierce didn’t get open looks, he did, he just wasn’t hitting any of them.

He might’ve been cold-blooded in Miami for game 5, but back at home for game 6 was another story altogether. Pierce’s sprained knee has got to be hurting him a bit because not only did he shoot poorly (and has for the entire series at 36%), but from the opening tip tonight—when ‘Bron scooted by him on the right for a dunk before most people had even glanced at their televisions—Pierce couldn’t stay with him. This isn’t the truth most Celtics fans know. We’ll see if a Friday night off can help Paul for game 7. Celtics fans better hope it does.

Rondo can’t do it all; although, watching those little stutter, fake-behind-the-back-pass followed by a hard drive for an up-and-under lay-up, are pure artistry right up there with Da Vinci and Picasso. Tonight he did one with his left hand.

After a gorgeous Wade reverse with around 8 minutes left in the 4th pushed the lead to 21, Doc sat Rondo, Pierce and Garnett and that was it. Celtics fans started filing out of the __ Garden and we’re headed back to Miami.

I never thought this was possible. I just thought when the Heat had their backs against the wall, which hardly ever happens, they’d fold. Just like ‘Bron folded when he was going against Boston with Cleveland and just like he did against Dallas last year in the Finals. It’s written in stone somewhere near Skip Bayless’ mansion, right next to McCarthy’s list of Commies. But ‘Bron didn’t fold, he rose to the occasion.

Lets take a moment to appreciate how much pressure he was under tonight, and how well he responded. It was pretty incredible. Big ups to James, he deserves as much praise as he can get before game 7 brings him crashing down to earth. If you don’t think the Celtics are gonna come out firing, then you don’t know the Celtics. And with all the pressure on Miami to win since they’ll be at home, I don’t see a happy ending for Miami fans. Then again, I didn’t see a happy ending for the Heat tonight either.

Final: Miami Heat 98 - Boston Celtics 79

The Celtics and Heat are tied 3-3


Game 6: San Antonio at Oklahoma City

I’ve been up all night digesting this game 6 in Oklahoma City. It had all the usual narrative plot points of your favorite summer movies: the “passing of the guard,” I’ve mentioned before; the use of the superstars to sell tickets as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all brought their A game; a come-from-behind story in the climactic final scene; a teary-eyed mother hugging her son and just beaming with so much pride the whole court lit up and it got a little dusty at Groove bar where I was watching the latter stages of the game. Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals is the reason you watch basketball, to be a part of history.  Last night the Oklahoma City Thunder became just the third team in history to win 4-straight after going down 0-2 and advanced to their first ever NBA Finals. It was quite a road that got them there, and the final game was just as rocky.

First, San Antonio, the four-time former champions and never one to back down from a fight, came out smoking. Duncan and Parker were equally impressive and Captain Jack was unconscious from the field. They quickly built a 14-point 1st quarter lead, which took the amped up crowd out of it.

Even though Russell Westbrook threw down one of the nastier dunks of the postseason, the Thunder were flat and many thought they were wilting in an elimination game because they weren’t used to their new position as frontrunners.

Jackson’s 3’s continued as he hit two more in the second quarter, and the Thunder took a 15 point lead into the second half.

Popovich finally had some positive things to say to his team:

That’s how we played all year. That right there. That’s how we played at both ends of the court. Active on D; helping, aware; good pace; moving the basketball; hitting the open man; attacking them. Great job.”

In the second half, the young Thunder came alive like Victor Frankenstein had breathed life into their clunky and inert parts. The Thunder started passing the ball more and settling for fewer jumpers; they were getting active on defense, which has the nice side-effect of arousing their offense and getting easier buckets.

In the 3rd quarter, the Thunder made up 14 points and only trailed the Spurs by 1 heading into the decisive 4th.

The 3rd quarter was Scott Brooks’ time to give a little speech. It wasn’t exactly Popovichian in drive and second-listen hilarity, but it stoked the Thunder flames just enough:

This is where we need to be right? It’s because of the body language; the spirit of competition. You guys are competing, right? That’s why we play. We play like that all the time.”

Yes they do.

But the Spurs don’t lie down, they never have; Popovich and Duncan and Parker and Manu and Captain Jack wouldn’t allow it. Jackson hit another big 3 in the 3rd and Duncan threw down a dunk like the last decade hadn’t sapped him of some of his strength. They weren’t letting the Thunder get past them just yet.

There were a lot of free throws in the 4th quarter and the Thunder made most of them. Derek Fisher hit a big three, and Russell Westbrook had a big 3-point play off a beautiful feed from Harden on the wing. Durant didn’t get a field goal in the 4th, but he hit hit 5 of 7 free throws and spotted Harden for a big 3 late. The Thunder took the lead and it vacillated for a couple minutes before a Harden lay-in with 9:32 left gave the Thunder the lead for good.

Despite not getting a field goal in the 4th, Kevin Durant had the cherry on top of the night.

After a Parker lay-in with 1:15 remaining cut the Thunder lead to 4, both teams traded misses. For the Spurs, they got three chances: a Duncan dunk that was blocked, a Stephen Jackson 3 that came up short, and a Tony Parker 3 that missed right; all of this happened with under minute remaining. The Spurs just couldn’t get a shot to fall when they desperately needed it. Finally, after Parker’s missed 3, Harden pulled down the rebound and gave the ball to Durant at the top of the key on the other end of the court. The Spurs made a move to foul him and stop the clock, which had ticked under 30 seconds at this point, but rather than take the foul, Durant curled a bounce pass around the advancing Spurs to a cutting Kendrick Perkins. An enthusiastic dunk followed, and it was all but over with 24 seconds remaining.

Durant found his mom at court-side and gave her the most emotional hug I’ve ever seen as a game was still going on.

Less than a couple minutes later and it was over for real. The Oklahoma City Thunder had advanced to the 2012 NBA Finals. Durant raised the Western Conference Championship trophy as his other family—his teammates—and the Oklahoma City crowd cheered with delirious delight.

For the night, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were both 9 for 17 from the field. Russ had 25 and Durant had 34 on the strength of 4/8 3-point shooting and 12 of 15 free throws. James Harden out-played Manu Ginobili again, scoring 16 points on an efficient 9 shots (including another big 3 late). Derek Fisher was the strong veteran presence they brought him over for, scoring 5 points in the last 5 minutes to help preserve the Thunder lead.

The Spurs are warriors, and refused to go quietly even on the road in front of a crazy crowd and after having lost 3 straight when they had control of the series less than a week ago. Tony Parker had an incredible game in the loss, scoring 29 points and dishing out 12 assists. A lot of those assists went to Tim Duncan, who—when on the verge of defeat in the series—responded with one of his best performances of the playoffs: scoring 25 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking 2 shots. Champions always bring it when it matters and despite the loss, the Spurs are still champions for the last decade and a half of top-tier play and multiple rings to show for it. I will miss them in the Finals (I am probably the only one). 

But tonight was about Kevin Durant and the Thunder family Sam Presti and Scott Brook has brought to small-market Oklahoma City. They’re going on to the NBA Finals and a date with immortality.

Final: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 107 - San Antonio Spurs 99

The Thunder win the series 4-2


Game 5: Boston at Miami

There’s such a contrast between the Eastern and Western Conference Finals even as they both follow the same script. In the West, the young guns took control after losing the first two games on the road to the older, favored Spurs. In the East, it’s the older, underdog Boston Celtics that lost two games on the road to start the series, only to come back and win the next 3. They’re parallel series’, but divergent in narrative.

The Celtics just seem to tease you with how they go about advancing in the NBA playoffs, and it’s not new to this year. They were stretched to 7 games by the Sixers and 6 games by the Hawks earlier in the playoffs, but in 2008 they were stretched to 7 games against the Hawks in the opening round and again to 7 games in the conference semifinals against ‘Bron and his woefully single-dimension Cavaliers team; the Celtics only ended up winning the title that year.

This year’s Celtics bunch, with prior year’s battle scars still stinging their uniforms, is just itching to rip the other team’s heart out and raise the mush of a a beaten muscle in commemoration of their victory; it’s that tenacity that defines champions and at the same time undermines the merely gifted. 

As a team playing the Celtics, you become pliable and utterly at Boston’s mercy if you don’t put them away when you have a chance, and of course there’s Paul Pierce’s Will to Power.

LeBron James is the best all-around basketball player on the planet; not many people can argue otherwise—though many have tried—but he doesn’t have that tick in his personality: the Übermensch will to destroy and step on the throats of opponents that so defined Jordan, Bird, Kobe, Magic and Pierce. LeBron’s never had it, and he hasn’t gleaned it the way Durant has over in the West this year, and Dirk did last year. We all know this and continue to know this as we fret and preen on the screens of the Internet trying to figure out why. Why can’t LeBron win the whole thing? Why isn’t really as important as the fact he hasn’t, at least yet. 

So we’ll castigate LeBron tomorrow and there will be a million different articles either defending him or calling him a fraud of an MVP. That’s not really important for tonight’s purposes, but prepare yourself for that plot point when you open up your sports site of choice tomorrow, or I guess now today. It wasn’t that LeBron and Wade lost this game, it’s that Pierce, Garnett and the whole Boston team won the game. Just like they’ve done everything else this year, they’ve done so as a team.

But tonight, it was Paul Pierce that exerted his will on this game, and shot the Celtics to victory in the closing moments and one game away from a return to the Finals. I could write mellifluous commentary on Kevin Garnett’s dominating 26 point, 11 rebound and 2 blocks as a commanding presence down low; I could go on about Rondo’s huge buckets late, 13 assists early and 6 boards that when combined mean he’s one of the top all-around guards in the game. There are plenty of individual components to the Celtics team, but it was Pierce’s burning desire to win that led him to take and hit that 3-pointer with just under a minute left before letting out a smile and a bit of smack talking as he trotted back up court for the Heat’s timeout. Pierce isn’t one to yammer away at you with his mouth since “real player’s don’t flex nuts ‘cause real players know they got ‘em,” but I’ll forgive him that because he wanted to remind the Heat what they already know: they don’t have him, they don’t have the will to win.

Pierce knows the secret to NBA success. LeBron doesn’t, and Wade must’ve forgot. The Celtics won game 5, and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 5 years, they aren’t coming back to Miami for game 7. This series, more-so than the parallel series in the West, is over.

The Celtics will represent the Eastern Conference in the 2012 NBA Finals. They were the only one’s that thought that was possible. They were the only one’s that mattered.

And you wondered why Pierce was smiling.  

Final: Boston Celtics 94 - MIAMI HEAT 90

The Celtics leads the series 3-2


Game 5: Oklahoma City at San Antonio

Simply put, this was one of the greatest playoff games of my adult life. I’m sure I’ll tell my kid about it, if I ever have a kid. There is no adjective available to adequately sum up how incredible this game was—even incredible doesn’t do it justice.

As I was watching the game with two friends (and huge NBA fans)—one of whom had placed a not inconsiderable wager on the Spurs to cover the 5 point spread on this game—I turned towards them during the 3rd quarter, and said

We’re watching a switch of dynasties. It’s the changing of the guard out West and it’s incredible.” 

My buddies, perhaps distracted by the plume of sativa smoke hovering in the air, ignored the slightly melodramatic comment and kept screaming for Manu to shoot a 3. Later, after Serge ee-blocked-a Manu on the backboard, and the Thunder went the other way where James Harden hit a huge 3 (not his last) while Manu—coming late to the play—added a foul to create a 4-point play and 6-point swing, one of my buddies turned to me and said: “It’s the changing of the guard.” I laughed and agreed before letting him know I’d said it a while back (don’t do drugs kids!). 

My point is, this really was one of those moments where you could see a watershed in the NBA’s hierarchy: the Spurs’ dominance transferring into the Thunder’s attempt at the same type of dominance. A win on the road is just the thing to spur (forgive the pun) a team on to a title. Lets go through it all in an incredible game 5 that we all knew was coming

The Thunder came out and won the 1st quarter with some help from Nick Collison and their role players. The Spurs started hot, going up 15-8 before the Thunder went on a 18-6 run to close out the first quarter with the lead 26-21. Their lead would grow.

In the second quarter, little used shooter, Daequan Cook, hit 2 big treys and a long 2-pointer to add 8 big points off the bench in just a 2 minute span. About the only player shooting well for San Antonio was Manu Ginobili who was attacking the rim and shooting well.  

Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka (still shooting lights out) brought the Thunder into the half with a 52-44 lead. 

To start the 3rd quarter, the Spurs held the Thunder scoreless until 9:38 when Durant hit a long jumper. By that point the Spurs had cut the Thunder lead to 54-50. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were not letting the Thunder come into their house and blow them out.

All of a sudden Manu just went off. WENT OFF! Down 2 with 7:43 remaining in the 3rd, Manu hit back-to-back 3’s to put the Spurs up 60-56. 

The Thunder and Spurs traded baskets and free throws before again Manu hit a driving runner and another 3. “RAGE AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT,” seemed like it was written for Manu.

The Spurs were in control; all was right with the world. Except, it wouldn’t last. A guy named Kevin Durant started to take over. He matched Manu’s 3 with a 3 of his own and instead of settling for more long jumpers, took it to the hole for a remarkably easy lay-in on the next possession to cut the Spurs lead to 1.

The Spurs were getting shut down by the Thunder’s snippily enthusiastic defense. A couple Westbrook free throws, one lay-in and the a steal by Durant led to this oop to Russ and a Westbrook scream that could be heard from space. 

Durant, not content to just get a small lead, decided to end the 3rd quarter with an impossible to guard turn-around from just inside the 3-point line as time expired. It gave the Thunder a 9-point lead going into the 4th. The Thunder had survived the Spurs’ first comeback attempt.

All told in the 3rd period, Durant was 6/7 from the field for 13 points. Can you say: “I’m the fuckin’ mang” again? The fuckin’ ALPHA man? To start the 4th, Durant came right back and drained a wing 3 to push the Thunder lead to 12 with 11:30 to play. 

But this is a San Antonio team that’s been there, done that. They don’t just roll-over, even when the tides of history are on their beach-head. They didn’t give a fuck that Durant was in his zone yet again. They’re the Spurs, and no one strolls into their stadium and gets a playoff win without a fight. 

Tony Parker hit a lay-up in the lane, and after a miss by Russ, Manu followed that up with yet another 3 (he would finish 11/21 from the floor for a game-high 34 points in a starting role—yes, Popovich smartly started him in place of the struggling Danny Green).  

The Spurs would not die, but right then Harden hit another dagger 3 and the lead was 10 again, 87-77 with 10:27 to play.  Still it wasn’t enough to get the Spurs to lay down. Parker hit a reverse lay-up and Stephen Jackson hit a couple 3-pointers and the Spurs kept the deficit to a manageable 10.

After the Serge Ibaka block and subsequent Harden 4-point play that elicited my friend to mirror my “changing of the guard” comment from above, Timmy Duncan went to work. He and Parker ran the elbow screen and roll to perfection a couple times, and Popovich kept feeding the ball to the big fella as he kept coming through in the clutch.

After Russ hit a huge 17-footer to make it 103-99 OKC with 1:30 to play, both teams missed shots and there was under a minute to play as San Antonio got the ball. They again went to the big fella. He backed Ibaka down with inside a minute to play and bulled his way to a score.

Vintage Duncan dominance as I continued to yell his name and thank the heavens for yet another incredible game. The Thunder were ahead by only 2 points with 50 seconds to play.

So what do they do? They clear out for James Harden? Actually, after the game Harden said the play was originally for Durant, but with the shot clock winding down he couldn’t find him. At one point in that last Thunder possession, Manu came over from the wing to try and trap Harden who had briefly turned his back. But Harden spun around, and Manu went back to guard Thabo. 

It ended up not mattering that the play broke down because James Harden has brass balls (and he’s now in the running with Sam Cassell and Chauncey Billups for the biggest playoff testicles by a guard—Big Shot Bob has them for front court players).

With around 7 seconds on the shot clock, 31 seconds left in the game and a tenuous 2-point lead against the almighty Spurs, Harden jabbed at poor Kawhi Leonard with his left foot, got the subsequent room he needed, and drained the final death blow (for now) to the Spurs.

Even with a 5-point deficit and only 28 seconds on the clock, the Spurs weren’t done. Manu got a lightening quick lay-up to cut it to 3, and on the ensuing in-bounds, the Spurs trapped. They trapped like their playoff lives depended on it— and it did! Their trap forced Thabo Sefolosha to inadvertantly lose the ball out of bounds. 

So with 15 seconds still on the clock, it was Spurs ball down 3. I’m sure there will be pundits and writers who claim Popovich should have gone for the quick 2 again and kept extending the game, but instead they elected to go with a high two-man game with Manu and Timmy. Manu got open on a Timmy screen, but his 3 was a bit rushed, and it ended up brushing against the front of the rim before going out of bounds. Thunder ball, and a game 5 victory I won’t ever forget. All Timmy could do was watch and ponder what could have been.

The Thunder are headed back to Oklahoma City with only one game remaining in their quest to get to their first NBA Finals. First, they’ll have to get through a Spurs team that doesn’t ever quit.

I’m exhausted in that happy way you get after you’ve been through a lot of craziness. I can only guess at how the Thunder feel. I hope I can survive game 6. So does San Antonio, and you know Oklahoma City doesn’t want anything to do with a game 7 in San Antonio again.

Are you freaking out as much as I am?

Final: Oklahoma City Thunder 108 - SAN ANTONIO SPURS 103

The Thunder lead the series 3-2