I can tell you this: If the team is anywhere near as nervous as I am right now, just dribbling the ball up the floor is going to be an accomplishment.
This is it. This is the opportunity. Winning Game 5 in San Antonio has opened the door to a homecourt closeout game with a chance to go to the NBA Finals. I’ve played out all the scenarios, wavered in confidence without pause, freaked out, gotten excited and contemplated running headfirst into a wall just to knock myself out so I could wake up and find out what happened without sitting through an excruciating two-hour experience.
I’m telling you, I’m a wreck.
But the team though. What about the team? How are they handling this moment?
“Focused,” Scott Brooks said when asked of the team’s mood. “I think we’re in a good place.”
What place that is, we’ll see. Kevin Durant wasn’t afraid to call Game 6 the biggest game of his life when asked. But then again, Game 3, 4 and 5 were also the biggest games of his life to date.
“Ah, you’re putting a lot of pressure on me, man,” Durant said when asked if this is the biggest one ever. “But you could say that. I’m just going to try and approach it like a regular game but know the significance of it. It’s going to be fun. As a kid you dream about playing in big, big games like this.”
Pressure is a crazy thing. Because obviously the pressure has been on since Game 1 against the Mavericks. But there are different levels, because sensing the significance of the moment and what’s at stake is different. The NBA Finals await, and it’s just a matter of if the Thunder can punch their ticket.
“The pressure is to play hard and the pressure is to play for your teammates,” Brooks said. “You can’t expect and put so much pressure on to make every shot. That’s not going to happen. Nobody does, except for Serge, makes every shot in a game. Nobody makes every shot. But you have to have perfect effort. You can do that 100 percent of the time.”
Said Durant: “[Coach] always says the easiest thing to do in basketball is to play hard. The hardest thing to do is to play well. So if we go out there and play hard we’re give ourselves a chance. We just got to go there with a mindset that every possession important. Like if we lose this game, it’s life or death. That’s the type of approach we need to take. Letting us leave everything out on the floor and see what happens.”
The words “life or death” are a little scary. But that’s how the Thunder intend to play every game. We’re all kind of sick of them preaching effort and playing hard, but it really is their culture. Playing hard is the fabric that they’ve built themselves on. Because they clearly have the talent. It’s about execution and effort.
On the other side of pressure is the worry of overconfidence. It has almost seemed like the Thunder advanced on Monday by winning in San Antonio. And the feeling since has been that this thing is wrapped up, finished off and the Thunder are off to The Finals. They’re playing at home, they’ve got all the momentum and they’re on the doorstep.
“I’ve been getting texts and all my friends and family members are excited for me that we’re playing at this stage,” Durant said. “But I just told them to calm down. We got to continue to keep playing. Nothing is over.”
See? He knows.
A few other notes:
- I liked this quote from Brooks: “You would be hiding under a rock if you haven’t thought about [The Finals]. You think about that, but you can’t focus on that. You have to focus on today’s game and not worry about tomorrow.”
- Obviously the buzz around the city is at an all-time high. Which means the atmosphere at The Peake will be something else. Said Brooks: “There’s no way they can be much better than they have been. If they have, then they’ve been sandbagging it all year. But I don’t think that’s the case. They’re great. I just can’t imagine if they’re a 10, they can’t go to 11.” Is that a challenge? “That is a challenge. Maybe I should say bad things about them so I can get all the free gear that Charles is getting. Bad fans. They’re horrible. Now where’s my boots?”
- Gregg Popovich said at Spurs shootaround Manu Ginobili is likely to start again.
- Brooks was asked if he’ll handle this game any differently given its magnitude. As if Perk or Derek Fisher will address the team or anything. He said no, all the same. Same routines, same processes same mindsets.
- KD: “We don’t expect this to be a cakewalk. We know this is going to be a tough, tough game.”