A timeout followed, and Ginobili walked over to the scorer's table and slammed his hand hard against the foam padding. Deep down, he knew what this meant. These opportunities don't come along often, and now the Spurs are dangerously close to squandering one of their best. Up 2-0 in the Western Conference finals, riding the wave of a 20-game winning streak, they're now one loss from vacation, the Thunder's thrilling 108-103 victory pushing the Spurs toward the edge of their season.
The Spurs aren't fighting only the Thunder in these West finals. They're fighting the clock. Their championship core doesn't have long together, two seasons at the most. If they go on to lose this series, they'll look back on Monday and wonder: Will they ever get another chance like this again? Healthy and whole, two victories from the NBA Finals?
Manu Ginobili's 34 points weren't enough to keep the Thunder from winning Game 5. (Getty Images)The Spurs now head to Oklahoma City needing to make a final stand, needing to beat the Thunder in a building where the Thunder have yet to lose in these playoffs, with Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker needing to summon their greatness once more. They've put off their demise through all these battle-torn years, contending season after season. But if this improbable championship chase is going to continue, they'll need to dig deeper still.
"I'm not submitting to nothing," Stephen Jackson said. "We are going to win this game. We have to."
Forever full of defiance, Jackson refuses to relent. The Spurs will need his cocksure attitude, but one bold proclamation can't erase the simple truth hanging over them: The Thunder have been the better team in this series.