By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
The Thunder are hoping the third time’s the charm tonight. Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals will be the third time this series OKC has had a chance to closeout the Golden State Warriors.
They couldn’t do it on the road in Game 5 and they couldn’t get it done at home in Game 6 and now they have one last shot.
But despite the failures that have been piled upon that 3-1 series lead the Thunder enjoyed just a few days ago practice seemed upbeat and Thunder players sounded full of optimism. It is after all a game that if they win it means a trip to the NBA Finals.
“This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity,” Kevin Durant told reporters just before the team left for the Bay Area.”We have to take advantage of it.”
Taking advantage of the opportunity is something the Thunder haven’t done these last two games. Losing in Oakland in Game 5 was understandable.
Losing in Oklahoma City in Game 6, when everything seemed to collapse coming down the stretch was not.
“We know what we have to do,” Durant said. “It's just a matter of us going out there and playing with extreme effort and leaving it all out there and feeling confident that we can go in there and get this done. I think all the guys feel confident.”
By now most everyone knows all the stats about Game 7s. Home teams are 100-24 overall in those situations. Road teams have won just once in the last 12 Game 7s played.
More specifically the Thunder and Warriors have played three Game 7s in recent years. OKC is 2-0 with both wins coming at home against Memphis (2011 & 2014). Golden State is 0-1, losing to the Clippers in LA in 2014.
But as strong as home teams have been through the years there is one chink in that armor and it involves the specific situation in which the Thunder and Warriors find themselves. When a team with home court advantage goes down 3-1 in a series and wins Games 5 and 6 that team is just 3-5 in a home Game 7.
Who knows for sure why. Maybe it’s the stress of playing three straight elimination games. You would maybe think with all that momentum going for a team that’s come back from two games down that team would roll at home in Game 7 but it hasn’t happened.
And the Thunder had their chances to win both games they lost,in fact it took just about everything going right for the Warriors, including Klay Thompson hitting an NBA playoff record 11 threes, and everything going wrong for the Thunder, including a terrible shooting night from Durant and four turnovers in the last minute and a half by Russell Westbrook, for Game 6 to end up the way it did.
“It was a tough, hard-fought game,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan. “We're disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven't lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they're a resilient group. I think they're looking forward to getting prepared and getting ready to play.”
And Donovan reminded that beating a team like the Warriors wasn’t supposed to be easy.
“You're also doing it against a team that over the last two years has won an NBA championship and has a historic mark of winning more regular-season games than any team in the history of the league. So we're playing against a terrific opponent. The opportunity to play against them I think has really made our team better in a lot of different areas besides in between the lines.”
The Thunder had certainly played better in this series and in the playoffs in general than they had for the most part in the regular season. Right up until the fourth quarter (their old nemesis) and especially the last six or so minutes of the fourth quarter.
“I thought offensively coming down the stretch we had three possessions that were not great, in terms of the shots that we got,” Donovan admitted Sunday afternoon. “I think we had some switches that we didn't recognize and read very correctly. Outside of that, I thought the game went kind of back and forth for both teams.”
Most people are probably anticipating a great game tonight, back and forth again like Donovan said and then coming down to the wire with everything on the line.
“You've just got to lose yourself and get really deep into the task at hand and enjoy it at the same time and not put too much pressure on yourself,” Durant said. “I think from the first to the 15th guy, we've got to enjoy this process. Because if you ask anybody coming into the season if you want one game to go to the NBA Finals, they'll sign up for that.”