For just four games, this series has had quite the wave of emotions. One game in cruise control, one frantic comeback, one tough loss and another come from behind effort. You could look at three or four plays and have a completely different result. The Thunder are on the verge and at home with the opportunity to finish. But what’s been going on with this series? And does it end now?
1. The Thunder looked so dominant in Game 1. Why have the last three been so painfully close?
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: The Lakers are actually a pretty good team. And they’re, believe it or not, also trying to win this series. Game 1 showcased that OKC can be dominant if it clicks, and the other two wins that they’re good enough if not. The Lakers have adjusted well, just not well enough to win.
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: Because the Thunder aren’t going to out-shoot the Lakers by 10 percent every game, especially on the road. The 53 and 43 percent shooting, respectively, for the Thunder and Lakers in Game 1 also wasn’t even as bad as the shooting disparity was before the fourth quarter, when the Lakers had already given up. Oklahoma City had to regress at least somewhat to the mean. Other than that, you have to give the Lakers credit for being a good team that made good adjustments. The Thunder are the better team and have proved it so far, but a team as proud and talented as the Lakers wasn’t going to lose by a couple dozen points every night for a week.
Chris Hanneke, @channeke5: Well the easiest answer here is that Joey Crawford was the lead official in Game 3. But in all seriousness, it’s just been a matter of LA sticking to their gameplan. The book coming into the series said LA needed to feed the bigs and not let OKC get out in transition, and they’ve done a good job of that. They’ve also used their two 7-footers – and Jordan Hill surprisingly – to bring some energy on the offensive glass. That along with, let’s face it, some very favorable whistles the past two games, never allowed OKC to get into a rhythm. But the fourth quarters in Games 2 and 4 demonstrated how mentally tough the Thunder is in finding ways to win even when things aren’t going their way.
Young: I want to say no, but then again, it’s hard of hard to ignore. That said, that’s kind of the way it works. The team that hits the big shots and makes the big plays wins. If it had happened once, I might just thinking it was an accident. But the Thunder have come back and closed in multiple games now. They’re good.
James: A lot was made of how close the Dallas series was to being 2-2 or 3-1 in favor of the Mavericks after four games, but the Mavs have been home for more than a week now. So, nope, don’t count me among those who care. The Thunder have been executing well, especially defensively, down the stretch against veteran teams for long enough to pass well beyond fluke status. It can’t be successfully argued that any team in the playoffs, with the exception of the Spurs, is even close to the Thunder talent-wise if you go 10 players deep. OKC’s weakness against veteran teams was experience and know-how, but a lot of that is in the rear window. The Thunder could still get a lesson in the next round against the terminators in San Antonio, but bet against OKC at your own risk.
Hanneke: I actually think it helps the Thunder that the games have been so close. All the talk all season was that when things slowed down, OKC’s reliance on jump shots would bite them. But Games 2 and 4 showed that the Thunder can actually be pretty effective in creating good shots in crunch time. Assuming they get out of this series, this experience in close games can only help the young roster in what is sure to be a dogfight with San Antonio.
3. Does it end tonight?
Young: Yes. I’m not one to go against myself, and I had this thing in five games. Part of me anticipates a cakewalk, but I think the Thunder are going to feel the pressure of finishing this and the Lakers desperately want to bring it back to LA. I don’t think the Lakers are quite ready to quit. But the Thunder are better and should close it at home. Plus, this is what I predicted and I’ll feel smart if it happens that way.
James: Yes. From the Los Angeles perspective, would you want to work hard for Kobe after his Game 4 press conference? As for the Thunder, would you be feeling pretty confident after the last seven games and playing in front of a rabid, blood-smelling home crowd? There’s only one team jet heading back to Los Angeles after Game 5.
Hanneke: Yes. We can talk all we want about the Lakers history of quitting in these situations, but I think the bigger factor here is that this Thunder team understands the importance of ending the series now. They know they’ll need fresh legs and a ton of preparation to have any shot at stopping the freight train that is the San Antonio Spurs. You take that, throw in a raucous crowd that smells blood, mix in a little mental fatigue from LA – who has basically executed their gameplan to perfection the last three games and still lost two – and all signs point to this one ending tonight.