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Thunder defeat Spurs to take 3-2 series lead

By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times –

SAN ANTONIO — The Western Conference finals hit the reboot button Monday night, and little seemed to compute.

Manu Ginobili was in the starting lineup for the San Antonio Spurs, who promptly fell behind by double digits. Never mind that they were playing at the AT&T Center and the home team had won each of the first four games in this series.

Not even the court where the Spurs had been undefeated in the playoffs could serve as a safe haven during a 108-103 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5.

The Spurs had a chance to tie the score after Kawhi Leonard forced a turnover while defending Thabo Sefolosha near the sideline with 15.8 seconds left, the ball deflecting off Sefolosha out of bounds and the Thunder holding a 106-103 lead.

But Ginobili’s three-pointer rimmed out, the ball went out of bounds off the Spurs and Kevin Durant made two free throws with 0.8 seconds remaining.

It was a coming-of-age moment for a group of young stars dismissed by many as at least a year away from overtaking the veteran Spurs. Now the Thunder has a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series it could close out with a victory in Game 6 on Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

James Harden hit a fadeaway three-pointer with 28 seconds left, giving the Thunder a 106-101 lead and sucking the air out of the Spurs after they had wiped out most of a 13-point deficit in a matter of minutes.

Durant finished with 25 points, repeatedly helping Oklahoma City prevail amid a series of wild momentum swings.

Russell Westbrook had 23 points and could shrug off a series of three consecutive turnovers late in the fourth quarter that allowed the Spurs to rally.

Ginobili scored 34 points and Tony Parker had 20 for San Antonio, which pulled to within 103-101 on Duncan’s hook shot with 50 seconds left. The Spurs would come no closer.

If history is any gauge, the Thunder’s edge in the series might feel larger than one game. In previous conference finals that were tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner went on to advance to the next round 35 of 45 (77.8 percent) times.

The last team to win any series after facing a 2-0 deficit was San Antonio in 2008, when the Spurs rallied against New Orleans in the conference semifinals. (incidentally, San Antonio lost Game 5 of that series.)

The Spurs appeared on the way to another historic run this season after winning 20 consecutive games, including the first two games of the conference finals.

Now they are trending heavily in the wrong direction. They have dropped three consecutive games for the first time since late in the 2010-11 season and became the first team in this series to lose on its home court.

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