SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Say it after me Oklahoma...and believe it. The Oklahoma City Thunder is ONE WIN AWAY from playing for a World Championship in the NBA.
The Thunder fought off a slow start, played a great second quarter, battled even in the third and led by 13 points midway through the final period before things got really interesting on their way to a rugged 108-103 victory Monday night in Texas.
Working hard for a 101-88 lead after a 3-point basket and free throw from James Harden with 5:15 left, the Thunder watched as San Antonio went on an 11-0 run to cut the deficit to 101-99 with 1:54 to play and the Spurs crowd at the AT&T Center was going bonkers.
But Russell Westbrook, who had turned it over on four straight possessions earlier in the quarter, hit a tough jumper from the wing and Harden banged in another difficult "3" for a 106-101 lead with :28.8 remaining.
Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili, who led everyone with 34 points, hit an easy lay-up and when Thabo Sefolosha turned it over with :15.8 to play, the Spurs set up a final play to tie the game in the waning seconds.
But Ginobili, who was defended well by several Thunder players, unleashed a 3-point try, it not only missed but the ball went off the Spurs and out of bounds with just over 3-second left...and the Thunder hung on to become the first team in either the Western or Eastern Conference finals to win a road game.
Kevin Durant, who was the star of the Game 4 win in OKC with 18 points in the final period, did not attempt a single shot in the second quarter and had only five points at halftime.
But the perennial NBA all-star, warmed up with 22 points in the final half to key the win.
Harden was sensational off the bench with clutch shot after clutch shot to finish with 20 and Westbrook had the ultimate up-and-down night with 23 points on 9-24 shooting and six turnovers...yet he also dished out 12 big assists and had four steals.
It was an eery feeling for OKC exactly the same as the opening game of the series, leading by nine points going into the final quarter in San Antonio.
But unlike Game 1, when San Antonio scored 39 points to win by 3, the Thunder hung tough, played great defense throughout and got the win.
Game 6 is Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in OKC and if the Thunder wins, they'll advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since moving to Oklahoma from Seattle.
If San Antonio hands the Thunder its first home loss in the playoffs, Game 7 will be Friday night at 8 p.m. back here in San Antonio with the winner qualifying for the World Championship series.
-Bob Barry Jr. in San Antonio, TX