We’ve been here before. Game 6 of the Memphis series (and the subsequent Game 7). The only thing different in this series is the team who holds the home court advantage. The Thunder will be playing Game 6 in the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. And if this series holds true to form, then we’ll see a Game 7 on Monday. The home team has won by resounding fashion in each of the first 5 games of the series. There is no clear cut way to tell who has the advantage other than to say the Spurs have played much better in San Antonio than the Thunder have in Oklahoma City, but not by much.
This what you want, though. An elimination game played on your home floor. You would like that elimination game to be Game 7, but no matter when you face the elimination game, you want it to be on your home court. This won’t be a repeat of 2012. The Spurs made sure of that in Game 5. Now, the onus will be on the Thunder to protect their home court. This will be the 2nd elimination game for the Thunder at home this postseason. They only had one home elimination game in the 3 seasons prior to this season (Game 7 of the 2nd round series against the Grizzlies in the 2011 playoffs).
Keys to the Game:
1. Stop over-helping – The Spurs killed the Thunder in Game 5 by making the extra pass and pump-faking their way into the paint. Every time the ball swung, a Thunder defender would go flying back to the Spurs player on the perimeter. The Spurs player would then simply pump fake to get the Thunder defender in the air and then drive into the paint to cause more havoc. Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, and, yes, even Kendrick Perkins, did a great job of defending the paint in Games 3 and 4. But in Game 5, with Ibaka out of the paint having to defend the likes of Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw, the Spurs’ players found it easier to get into the paint and suck the Thunder defense in. With the defense sucked in, the Spurs punished the Thunder with 13 threes in Game 5 (their most in a game this postseason).
2. The Others – The Thunder players, not named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, need to step up and help their superstar duo out. Other than Reggie Jackson’s 11 points (all in the 1st quarter), no other player on the Thunder roster came within 4 points of reaching double figures. The Thunder are at their best when “the others” are also scoring as it opens up the floor for their play makers (Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson).
3. Pick and Roll involving the PF when Duncan is the center – The Thunder have to take advantage of the pick and roll when the PF in the game is not Tim Duncan. Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw cannot keep up laterally with any of our guards and Ibaka and Nick Collison can hit the mid-range jumper. The Thunder took advantage of this in the first quarter (especially Reggie Jackson), but quit going back to it throughout the game.
4. Kevin Durant – Last time we questioned him, it was in the form of a headline. This time, I’m wondering whether he has anymore left in his tank. Durant is always talking about that extra level that he can reach, but so far, in these playoffs, its been Westbrook that has been the Thunder’s best player. For the Thunder to reach the next round, Durant will need to go more Slim Reaper or Junkyard Dog instead of settling for KD.