SAN ANTONIO — Kevin Durant scored 27 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder are on the brink of the NBA Finals, beating the San Antonio Spurs 108-103 in Game 5 on Monday night and moving within a victory of a series knockout.
Russell Westbrook added 23 and the Thunder took a 3-2 lead in a wildly entertaining Western Conference finals. Looking invincible while carrying 20-win streak a week ago, the Spurs have lost three straight and are on the verge of a stunning collapse.
Manu Ginobili scored 34 in a smashing return to the starting lineup. But trailing 106-103 and the Spurs down to their last shot, Ginobili missed an off-balance 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Game 6 is Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder can punch their ticket to the NBA Finals in the place they haven’t lost all postseason.
They’re bringing home just what they needed: the must-win on the road if they’re going to pull this series out.
Oklahoma City pulled it off behind their stars. James Harden scored 20, joining Durant and Westbrook as the only Thunder players in double figures.
Harden hit the biggest shot, draining a 3-pointer with 28.8 seconds left that pushed Oklahoma City’s lead to five. He admitted afterward that the ball was supposed to go to Durant but had no choice but to let go with the shot clock winding down and Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard in his face.
“The shot clock was running down and I had to make a play,” Harden said. “Leonard was playing great defense on me. I just shot it with confidence. West Conference finals — that’s a big shot.”
Tony Parker had 20 points and Tim Duncan had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs.
After remaining unbeaten for 50 days before arriving in Oklahoma City, San Antonio has lost three games in five day. They now must win two straight to avoid seeing their last best chance to win in a title in the Duncan era end.
“Championship teams win on the road,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Oklahoma City just did that.”
It’s the first time the Spurs have lost three in a row all season.
“That was a total team effort,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Everybody did their job. I thought we played as hard as we can play.”
Durant scored 22 of his points in the second half. Westbrook also had 12 assists.
Not wanting the series to slip away, Popovich moved Ginobili to the starting lineup in place of Danny Green, who came in shooting a combined 8 of 28 in this series. It was the first start for Ginobili since March and just his eighth all season.
Green’s days as a starter began looking numbered after Game 3. He couldn’t save his job before leaving Oklahoma City — Green shot 4 of 12 in both losses combined — and Popovich couldn’t wait any longer with the series tied and the season in the balance.
Out with the undrafted swingman who barely made training camp, and in with the former All-Star.
The switch wasn’t announced until after Popovich met with reporters, with whom he refused to discuss any possible lineup changes. But pulling this big an adjustment this deep in the season likely didn’t come easy for the NBA coach of the year.
The gambit drew mixed results. It looked like a no-brainer with Ginobili leading all scorers at halftime with 14, but new rotations for the Spurs made for rocky possessions. None more so than in the second quarter, when the Spurs shot 38 percent and trailed by as much as 14 before coming back in the second half.
Ginobili finished 11 of 21 and made half of his 10 3-point attempts. But with 4.9 seconds left, the one he needed most clanked off the back of the rim.
“We wanted to get Manu the 3,” Popovich said.
GAME NOTES: Taking a page from the Thunder, the Spurs held a T-shirt whiteout at the AT&T Center, a move the team has rarely made before. …Durant’s the clear last-shot taker for the Thunder. Popovich said it’s as obvious as Dirk Nowitzki having the ball in his hands at the end for Dallas. But who do the Spurs go to with the game on the line? “It’s a secret,” Popovich said before the game.
NBA NOTES: The Los Angeles Lakers officially picked up Andrew Bynum’s $16.1 million option, a formality for a player who finally tapped into the potential that had loomed above him throughout his career.
How long he’s with the Lakers beyond that becomes the question. Bynum , 24, will be in the last season of a four-year, $57.2 million contract. Negotiations on an extension had not begun, though that could happen soon. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Lakers, he will be an unrestricted free agent after next season.
Either way, Bynum remains one of the Lakers’ two tradable assets.
They’d rather deal Pau Gasol, but there are $38 million and two more years left on his contract, heavy money for a player who averaged only 12.5 points in the playoffs and shot 43 percent.
Kobe Bryant is due $58.3 million over the next two seasons and has a no-trade clause, making it difficult to deal him. And that wouldn’t even take into account the public-relations repercussions the Lakers would experience by trading one of their most popular players ever.
This season was a big one for Bynum. He sat out the first four games, suspended for having body slammed diminutive guard Jose Barea in last season’s playoffs, a move that cost him $436,000 in forfeited salary.
He went on to post career highs in points (18.7 a game) and rebounds (11.8) while passing Gasol, a four-time All-Star, as the Lakers’ second option behind Bryant. Bynum was chosen second-team All-NBA at center behind Orlando’s Dwight Howard.
Bynum had plenty of ill-conceived moments this season, including a well-documented three-point attempt in the third quarter of a close game at Golden State in March. He was yanked from the game and said afterward it wouldn’t stop him from taking more three-point shots. (He didn’t.)
The Lakers fined him about $7,500 for his actions stemming from that game.
About a week later, Bynum didn’t take part in team huddles during timeouts in a game against undermanned New Orleans because he said he was resting and “getting my Zen on.”