By Randy Renner
Much has been made of the Spurs lineup change in Game 5 that forced Serge Ibaka out toward the perimeter to guard Matt Bonner or Boris Diaw who replaced Tiago Splitter in San Antonio’s lineup.
In Game 6 you can expect that to change.
“He won’t be dragged away, he’ll be locked in tonight,” promised Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. Then he explained why.
“Boris Diaw and Bonner, man, you not talkin, well they both can shoot the ball but that’s nothin’ we’ve never seen before. We played Dirk Nowitzki three times in a row each year in the playoffs. We know how to guard somebody that can shoot the ball. Serge knows what he’s supposed to do, we know what to do as a team, so we not worried about that.”
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins echoed most of what Westbrook is saying.
“I think last game we was over-reacting to Diaw too much,” he said. Then he gave a hint as to how OKC’s strategy might change tonight in the do or die Game 6.
“We gotta live with somethin’. We know they tryin’ to stretch out Serge and poull him out of the paint but we gotta live with something so tonight Serge gonna live in the paint and we gonna contest layups. If they shoot threes then that’s what it is.”
The Spurs have taken a bunch of threes in this series. The differences have been in the results. In games played in San Antonio the Spurs have splashed a high percentage of those long balls. In Oklahoma City they haven’t.
In fact this series has seen the home team win every game and in blowout fashion. None of the five games has been decided in the final quarter, much less the final minutes or the final possession.
As to exactly why that is, no one is quite sure.
“I don’t know,” admitted Perk. “I just think it’s more the mindset. At home you got the crowd who can help you through bad times and weather the storm. On the road you got to have great mental toughness.”
“At the start of the playoffs you’d think the total opposite,” Westbrook said. “Everybody was losing at home and now everybody’s winning at home. So I don’t know, but we just gotta take care of our home court and play well in front of our fans.”
The Thunder generally have played well when they’ve absolutely had to. When they’ve needed a win to change the momentum of a series or when they needed a win (or two) as they did in the first series against Memphis when they also trailed 3-2.
“For some reason we play better with our backs against the wall, our sense of urgency gets back because we have no choice,” Perkins said.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go home,” Westbrook added. “We came into this season with one main goal and that’s to win a championship. And now, it shows if we really wanna win it or not.”
And that’s what it comes down to tonight. A Thunder win, keeps those hopes and that goal alive. A loss ends it all.