Thunder Shows Resiliency With Its Third-Quarter Counterpunch

SAN ANTONIO – The Thunder knew it was coming; the only question was when?

This is the Western Conference Finals, after all, and no lead is safe, especially an eight-point halftime lead on your opponent’s home court.

That was the situation the Thunder was in on Monday night, up 52-44 through the first two quarters of Game 5. But there was no comfort in that, knowing too well the San Antonio Spurs would come out swinging.

The Spurs did just that, opening the third quarter with an 18-4 burst that re-energized the crowd.

But the Thunder would not buckle. Starting with a Russell Westbrook drive and ensuing free throw with 6:59 left in the quarter, the Thunder outscored the Spurs, 25-10, and led 81-72 with 12 minutes remaining.

“We had a couple of bad stretches, but we didn’t break,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “We battled through that.”

The Thunder’s grit and togetherness would be tested again in the fourth quarter, but its third-quarter answer loomed equally as large in dissecting the 108-103 victory that gave it a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The start to the period included four turnovers and three missed shots. But resiliency isn’t just a word with the Thunder; it is a defining characteristic.

“We’ve been through a lot of tough games and that prepared us for tonight’s game,” said guard Daequan Cook, who scored eight points in just under four minutes of the second quarter. “We know how good San Antonio is, so it’s important for us to hold our composure and take it play-by-play.

“We know how important it was that they were going to make a run, but we just had to stay composed.”

Westbrook aggressively attacked the rim and was knocked hard to the court upon contact with Spurs forward Tim Duncan. The ball rolled in and, after walking off the hard fall, Westbrook drained the free throw to slow the Spurs’ run and the Thunder was now within 62-59.

On the Spurs’ next possession, Thabo Sefolosha stepped in front of a pass from Manu Ginobili and raced downcourt for an uncontested dunk. The next five minutes would feature 10 points from Durant, including a 3 at the buzzer, eight from Westbrook, two clutch free throws from Kendrick Perkins and one from James Harden.

“Our team showed mental toughness. Everybody stayed together,” Westbrook said. “We got stops and we finally made some shots. And I think that was the turning point for us to see how the game was going to turn out. “

Afterwards, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich was asked about the difference in the Thunder in the past three games versus the first two games of the series.

“They’re a hell of a basketball team. I don’t know what else to tell you,” he said. “It’s not like we’re playing the Sisters of the Poor. These guys are hard to guard, talented, hungry, athletic, and the bottom line is you can look at whatever you want, but you can’t turn it over 21 times for 28 points against a team like that. They’re too good.”