Denver Nuggets (1-3, 0-2 road) vs. OKC Thunder (3-1, 2-0 home)
Series: OKC leads 3-1
View from the enemy: Roundball Mining Company
The best way I think I could sum up the Thunder fanbase’s feelings right now heading into Game 5 would be a queasy confidence. Up 3-1 coming back home, that feels good. But any time you lose in the postseason, everything is amplified. Notably, the performance of Russell Westbrook and the consequences that came after.
It was kind of surreal hearing all the trash being tossed Westbrook’s way after Game 4. People saying things like this could be a “very big deal” for the team and even taking it so far to speculate on Westbrook’s future with the team because of it. (One radio pundit in OKC actually decided to doubt Westbrook would re-sign with the Thunder as a result of Game 4.)
But I think tonight’s game could be bigger for the Thunder than just simply winning and closing a series. This could be all about another big step in development.
Until this point, this group had largely avoided the negative side of the media. They had avoided having to answer tough questions about chemistry and shot selection the day after a game. But they had the spotlight on them yesterday. They had to face the music and for that part, they passed with flying colors. They all had each other’s backs, they stayed together and they didn’t waver.
What matters though, is proving that point tonight. This is a big game for Westbrook not because he needs to bounce back from Game 4, but it’s going to say a lot about his mental fortitude going forward. He can say he’s put it all out of his head, but it’s going to be hard not to have those critical thoughts creep in right at gametime. He’s going to have to try and play his game despite all the noise around him. And if he can, I think Game 4 could be the very best thing that ever happened to Russell Westbrook.
The team is absolutely in a position to win now and that’s obviously the main focus. But they haven’t lost side of the overall goal hovering over everything — the process. That’s what it’s still about. About developing, getting better, about learning. Here’s a big opportunity for not just Westbrook, but for Scott Brooks and the entire team.
Will they hang together and close out an opponent on their home floor? They failed in the first attempt. They didn’t play their game. They got sloppy, selfish and didn’t come ready to win. They almost put it off regardless but here’s another chance to squash the Nuggets and move on.
And more importantly, a chance to get better. Which might be the most important part.