Western Conference Semifinals (Best 4 of 7)
Spurs (6-3, 3-1 road) vs. Thunder (7-3, 3-2 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:30 PM CST
Thunder lead 3-2
Playoff Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats – out of 16 teams)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.7 (3rd), Spurs – 108.1 (4th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.3 (9th), Spurs – 97.5 (2nd)
(This was scheduled to post, and it didn’t. That’s my bad. -ed)
This is it. This is what the Oklahoma City Thunder have worked towards this entire season. No, this is not their final goal. But in the progression of getting to their final goal, they knew they would likely have to reach this point. And in reaching this point, they’ve set themselves up nicely with an elimination game at home. Other than a road/home sweep, there is nothing more the Thunder could’ve done to set themselves up better for success in this series.
After a vintage performance from Kevin Durant in Game 4 and a vintage Russell Westbrook “Eff You” performance in Game 5 on the road, the Thunder now find themselves on the brink of eliminating the San Antonio Spurs for the second time in four years. But the story hasn’t been the superstars. Instead, the Thunder have relied on the steady production from “the others”. Namely, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Dion Waiters. The last two games, the Thunder have closed out the game with those 5 players and have befuddled the Spurs in ways I never thought possible.
But now comes the hard part. Elimination games are difficult to predict. Sometimes the added pressure causes teams to rise to the occasion and survive to play one more game. But sometimes, that pressure can suffocate a team into imploding on itself by the time the fourth quarter starts. The Spurs are more the “rise to the occasion” type, so I can definitely see this game going the way of the last four: a close, contested battle deep into the fourth quarter.
3 Big Things1. Composure
The worst thing for the Thunder to do at the beginning of the game is to play like they want to put the Spurs away in the first quarter. They are playing at home in front of a fervent fan base. Emotions will be high and visions of grandeur (or the Western Conference Finals) will be on their minds. They are going to have to remain focused and play their game, especially in the first half. The Spurs will likely come out like gang-busters as most desperate teams do. If they get caught in that situation, will the Thunder weather the storm or will they try to force their way back into the game by playing a hyperbolic version of themselves?
In years’ past, they’ve been down to the Spurs before in elimination games and have fought back to make the games competitive. In 2012, they were down by as many as 17 in the first half of Game 6, before turning on the defensive pressure in the second half and coming out with the victory. In 2014, it was a back and forth affair in Game 6 that eventually went to the Spurs in overtime. The Thunder have battled back from deficits throughout this series, but will the added pressure of this being an elimination game cause them to act differently in that same situation?2. Serge Ibaka
Relegated to spectator in the last 2 fourth quarters, Serge Ibaka’s standing as one of the top 3 players on the Thunder is seriously in question. While he is still doing well from the perimeter, his absence on the boards (only 3.4 per game for the series) has been puzzling. But I, personally, don’t see it that way. Ibaka is having to guard LaMarcus Aldridge most of the time, and Aldridge does most of his work from the mid-range. If Ibaka is having to guard him closely, there is almost no way he can stick with Aldridge and crash the boards at the same time. After shooting 33/44 (75% FG) in the first two games of the series, Aldridge has shot 22/60 (36.7% FG) in the three games since. That drop in production from Aldridge has helped the Thunder win the last two games, and a lot of that is because of Ibaka’s defense.
I believe Ibaka has a big impact on this game. The Spurs will try to scheme against the Thunder’s weakness, and Enes Kanter’s defense in the pick and roll is still one of our biggest weaknesses. At the end of the first half in Game 5, the Spurs went on an 8-0 run to end the half by targeting Kanter in the pick and roll. If the Spurs choose to focus on that, then having Ibaka available to defend the pick and roll could be key for a Thunder victory.3. Game 7 mentality
Just win. Don’t go back to San Antonio for a Game 7 where anything can happen. Take care of business tonight. The ball is literally in your court, Oklahoma City.