Game 7. It has a certain something to it. The actual do-or-die nature, the actual win-or-go-home reality.
The Thunder essentially played in the same game already though with Game 6, facing elimination if they didn’t perform. And woo boy, did they perform. It was the best they’ve played in a month with defense keying offense and Kevin Durant remembering he was Kevin Durant.
“I know after Game 5, he called me and he was stressed out,” Kendrick Perkins said at practice on Friday. “And I just told him to stick with it and that’s all he could think about was playing in Game 6. Sometimes you’ve got to face a little adversity, even as an individual, to bounce back.”
But one of the largest issues this team has faced since the All-Star break is consistency. To play wonderfully against the Spurs and Clippers, then turn around and drop duds to the Pelicans and Pistons. It was a curious thing, with sloppy defense and inefficient offense sneaking up on them any given night.
So the question is, can they put back-to-back performances together?
“You have no other option but to win. You can’t get the game back. It’s Game 7. You have to be ready to go from the beginning. Just going out there and having fun with the game, and you can live with the results.”
Scott Brooks made a needed change in the starting five with Caron Butler starting for Thabo Sefolosha, something that is expected to happen again in Game 7. The question is if Dave Joerger and the Grizzlies will counter it, possibly inserting Tony Allen into the starting five.
“One thing about Caron,” Brooks said, “he’s been there before, he knows how to play. He understands spacing, he knows defensive angles, he plays with toughness.”
So much of the build-up to Game 6 centered around Durant and headlines and nonsense, rather than the fact the Thunder were facing the real possibility of first round elimination. Seems, though, that stuff is behind everyone.
“Controversy? I wouldn’t say it’s controversy. It’s just people doing their jobs, man,” Durant said. “My mom and my brothers and all my friends were so upset and I was just like ‘Man, it comes with the territory. It’s a part of it and I understand that.’ And I just have to play better. I just have to look myself in the mirror and own up to it.
“But the support here in Oklahoma City, I didn’t really need it or I wasn’t down on myself, but the people are just unbelievable. When I was riding home from the airport at about 1 o’clock in the morning and I seen a ‘OKC Loves KD’ billboard and I was thinking man that’s taking it a little too far because I really didn’t care about it.”
Game 6 might be looked back on as a touchstone rallying moment for the franchise, for Brooks and for Durant. It was one of the more adverse situations the team has ever faced, and they were forced into a response.
But that was only step one of the survival process. Because even with Game 6’s emotion and power, it won’t mean all that much if the Thunder give it away on Saturday.