A day later and it’s still hard to believe. The Thunder are a game away. But that’s a scary prospect because there’s also a whole lot of pressure that comes with that. Yes, Oklahoma City has an advantage trying to close at home. At the same time though, a loss means the Thunder have to return to San Antonio and try and do this all over again.
But that’s three straight for the Thunder against the Unbeatable Team. Something’s changed. What happens now?
1. Are the Thunder the clear title favorite right now?
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: That sound you heard was me throwing up all over myself. Just the thought of it is enough to cause severe bouts of anxiety. But the fact is, they are. They have to be. They’ve topped the best team in basketball three straight times, they’re healthy and they’re playing exceptionally well. Being a “favorite” is a very fluid thing that can change with one game, but at this moment, the Thunder seem to be in control of their own destiny.
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: How can they not be? Even if the Celtics pull their own Thunder and win Game 5 tonight in Miami, would anyone install them as the favorite in the Finals without home court? I don’t think Miami’s recent struggles late and an ailing Chris Bosh would convince odds-makers to do that for the Heat, either. Quite simply, other than a tough stretch from the fourth quarter of Game 1 through the third quarter of Game 2, the Thunder have been playing basketball as well this postseason as anyone has all year. The biggest development is OKC’s propensity to share the ball, especially early in games. It makes the Thunder look simply unbeatable.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Clarity is a relative and fleeting things in sports, but given that they’re the only of the remaining four teams currently leading a best-of-seven series andwhose core is both young and healthy, that’s a fair statement. The clincher is the manner in which the Thunder’s offense is moving the ball. That’s always been the rub with the Thunder, that if you dropped them into a series against a tight, pressure-oriented defensive scheme, that they couldn’t find the weak side of the floor with a pass. That’s clearly no longer the case.
Young: I’m not a big fan of the out-coaching thing. Because if your team plays poorly and the other good, all of a sudden you’re being “out-coached.” When in reality, your team’s just not playing great. But I do think Brooks has pushed buttons better than Popovich. Brooks wasn’t afraid to make a few clear adjustments in Game 3, while Pop might’ve waited too long to make any significant moves. And it’s still confusing to me why DeJuan Blair isn’t seeing 20-25 minutes a game against the Thunder. Brooks is managing his roster well enough, which is really sometimes all he needs to do. Know when to make a move, and know when to get the hell out of the way.
James: Brooks has the superior talent, but where things stand now, you can’t deny he’s done a better coaching job. The evidence is that his adjustments have worked, and San Antonio’s adjustments have not. If you recover from going down 2-0 in a series to lead it, you’ve made the right moves. For example, Brooks had to put on his thinking cap less than a minute into Game 5 when he already had to adjust to foul trouble, and he didn’t flinch. The Thunder ended that quarter in the lead. He’s kept his bench players ready and motivated, his star players are sharing the ball, and his team is winning. Brooks is coming into his own right along with the team.
Arnovitz: I’m always skittish about tallying up the coaching battle in-series because so much of a coach’s performance is the aggregate product of preparation over a number of years. Brooks has never been regarded as a tactical genius, but his growth over the past week has been as profound as any player’s on his roster. The Thunder have the superior talent, but Brooks has deployed it in a sophisticated way.
3. Does it end Wednesday?
Young: It has to. Wait, I shouldn’t say that. It needs to. Desperately. The prospect of losing Game 6 means the Thunder have to find a way to repeat Game 5. Which wouldn’t be easy. Plus, the mental murder losing Game 6 on your home floor could be devastating. It would be hard to bounce back from that. The Thunder will play for blood Wednesday and when they’re focused and energized, most times, teams can’t hang with them.
James: Yes. Can anyone see this roll ending in front of what is sure to be the most rabid crowd in Oklahoma City’s history of rabid NBA crowds? The NBA Finals are coming to Oklahoma next week. Think about that.
Arnovitz: Most likely. The Thunder are still posting some eye-popping and probably unsustainable shooting numbers from 16 feet and beyond, but I’m also convinced they can do enough defensively and have learned how to move the ball against the slower Spurs to get a close-out win.