Thunder (6-4, 3-1 road) vs. Clippers (5-5, 3-2 home)
It’s time for the Thunder to get greedy. With a split guaranteed, there might be a temptation to be satisfied. To count your winnings at the table and plan for Game 5. But the Thunder have a clear opportunity now to seize the series. A loss isn’t catastrophic, but it certainly will be a missed chance. A win, and there’s the potential to dust off the hands at home in Game 5.
What we learned from Game 3 was pretty simple: When operating at full power and authority, the Clippers can’t stop the Thunder. There’s no clear answer for either Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant, and when OKC can incorporate some balance into things, they pretty much get unstoppable. Serge Ibaka’s 20, Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler’s 14. That’s the kind of scoring distribution that makes the Thunder dangerous.
Another area the Thunder have improved is on the defensive end. The Clippers are still scoring because they’re a darn good team, but the Thunder have mostly eliminated a lot of their easier chances. The open 3s are coming less frequent and the Clippers are trying to muscle points in the paint.
This game has a clear stated goal to it, and battling against complacency is the top issue. The Thunder aren’t satisfied by any means, and have a team mindset to play like Game 3 didn’t happen. The Thunder have played their best when desperate this postseason and while they can try and manufacture that mindset, it’s human nature to relax a bit. It’s the Clippers’ turn to play with desperation, and the Thunder will have to absorb and counter that. The Thunder have been the better team the last two games and seem to have an advantage. Just have to keep a foot firmly on the gas.
Five Big Things
1. Durant and Westbrook. The better they play together, the more chance the Thunder have of winning. Pretty simple.
2. Balance. Here’s a bold statement: If someone other than Westbrook or Durant scores 15 or more points, the Thunder will win.
3. Bench. This is going to remain a key until the series is over. The Thunder’s bench against Jamal Crawford. The last two games Crawford has struggled mightily, as the Thunder haven’t allowed him to get into his rhythm.
4. Smallball. When will Scott Brooks deploy it this time around, if at all? Save it for the fourth quarter or wait until it’s needed to try and spark a run. The danger is in rebounding, but the Thunder have a clear advantage in terms of the spacing and room it creates. The Clippers can’t defend the paint the way they want and if Ibaka is knocking down shots, there are too many options to cover.
5. Poise. The Thunder have played like the more mature, smarter team in the last two games. They’ve ignored a lot of the chippy physicality and have avoided silly confrontations, for the most part. But even more than that, they have to play confidently and under control, not trying too hard to get this Game 4. Mainly, I’m talking about Westbrook who might have to battle his nature to go insane and try and win this by himself.
Tip at 2:30 CT. Go Greed.