It’s quite clear that game six of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers is very important for both teams. As they get set to square off on Thursday night in LA, the Thunder has a chance to end the series and move on to the conference finals to take on the San Antonio Spurs. As for the Clippers, they will be fighting for their lives. Playing on their home floor with their backs against the wall LA will likely come out flying, hoping to force a game seven in OKC. Of course the Thunder would like to win for the obvious reason of advancing to the next round, but there are a few more reasons that game six will be crucial for Oklahoma City.
The idea that a potential game seven would be held at Chesapeake Energy Arena should be somewhat calming to the Thunder players and fans. It is a very nice advantage to have, and is a reward for the Thunder’s tremendous regular season; but OKC will need to avoid feeling complacent. No matter where the game would be played, it’s still a game seven. As we have learned over the years, anything can happen when a series comes down to the final game. Sure, the stats show that home teams are overwhelmingly successful in game sevens, but that is something the Thunder simply cannot bank on. They must come out strong in game six, showing that although they have home court advantage, they are hungry rather than complacent and are ready to move past the Clippers.
Another underlying key of game six for the Thunder is the chance to send a message. Many teams in their situation show that aforementioned complacency and come out sluggish in game six on the road. At first glance, this doesn’t seem very important. The team often goes on to show great energy on their home floor in game seven, and moves on to the next round. What isn’t quite as clear is the message sent to the rest of the teams remaining in the playoffs when they do this. The other teams see that there isn’t a sense of urgency in games that aren’t labeled as, “must win.” What the Thunder have a chance to do Thursday night is send a message to the rest of the league that they aren’t messing around. With most people picking the Clippers to win, if OKC can pick up a win tonight they can show that they are a team to be reckoned with for the remainder of the playoffs.
The most obvious reason that game six is important for the Thunder is rest. After playing seven, high intensity games with the Grizzlies in the first round, having to play one less game wouldn’t be such a bad thing. After the Spurs took care of the Blazers in only five games, they are ready and waiting for the winner of the other semifinals series. Rest is clearly more important for a team like the Spurs, whose roster is loaded with aging veterans. OKC has a team of young and athletic players, but a chance to get some extra rest before what would be a grueling series with the Spurs.
As we get closer to game time, the importance of the game is becoming more and more clear. The Thunder have a chance to close out the series on the road, send a message to the rest of the league, and also get some extra rest. It will, as usual, be up to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to set the tone early and show that they are hungry to move on to the Western Conference Finals.