With a huge Game 4 victory on the back of a 40 point explosion from Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder have tied the series and ultimately made it a “best of three” scenario. While this is terrific news for the Thunder who found themselves down 0-2 after the first two games, the task is still ahead of them. They will have to beat the San Antonio Spurs on two more occasions and out of the potential final three games, two will be in San Antonio.
Serge Ibaka has returned for the Thunder and so has the game plan and energy that OKC utilized all season long – earning them the second best record in the league. It has proven – time and time again – that on their night and at full strength, the Thunder are a handful. However, the San Antonio Spurs have a tried and true formula as well, and it allowed them to pace the entire league and to come within a game of taking home an NBA Championship just least season.
So settle in for an epic battle for the last three games.
The Thunder have played with the underdog tag for the past two games, relishing in being written off, welcome back their “third wheel” and embracing a home crowd. All these elements have culminated in wins for OKC, but now it goes back to San Antonio and it gets back to business as usual. There are no more “surprise returns” to generate enthusiasm. Games 5 and potentially 7 will be played in front of a hostile crowd, so the Thunder won’t be able to feed off that either. They are going to have to really dig deep and find a way to win.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are a pretty good place to start. In Game 4, the duo combined for 71 points. Durant, the regular season scoring champion had an efficient 31 points while Westbrook poured in 40 of his own on 50% shooting and on an array of acrobatic dunks, courageous and aggressive drives and in rhythm jumpers. He rounded out his complete performance with 5 rebounds, 10 assists, 5 steals and just 3 turnovers. It was Russ at his very best. Durant chimed in with 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals without a turnover, while also shooting 50% from the floor.
When these two are playing at such a high level, it is tough for anyone to beat them. Durant has really yet to explode in this series and Russ’ Game 4 was clearly his moment – but can they keep it up? They are going to have to if they want to steal this series and complete a comeback reminiscent of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
They won’t be able to do it alone though and the Thunder reserve unit is going to have to perform. Caron Butler, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams all gave OKC terrific minutes in Game 4. They were effective on the defensive end – especially Lamb’s length and athleticism, but also kept the offense ticking over with timely shots, dunks and drives. With Reggie Jackson being inserted into the starting lineup, all eyes were on the bench and who would be the guys to give them that spark. The job is being shared by everyone – and the results are positive.
San Antonio are wounded. They are heading home with the series all tied up and on the back of two pretty comprehensive losses. This is when the Spurs are at their most dangerous though. Well coached, experienced and driven, the Spurs will not go quietly into the night. They will defend their home court and will want to make one last trip to OKC and end the series. You can just never count them out. With Tim Duncan, Manu Ginolbili, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich – anything is possible.
So the Thunder should be very proud of themselves. They have fought tirelessly and worked extremely hard just to get back to level pegging with one of the best teams over the past decade. But they will need to dig deep and find a way to get the best of the Spurs on two more occasions.