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Sekou Smith

Kevin Durant and the Thunder are more than a little displeased after falling apart in Game 3.
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Game 4 provides stiff test of OKC's resolve in playoffs

Posted May 23 2011 9:43AM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Sort through the litany of issues that have plagued the Oklahoma City Thunder during these playoffs -- they're inexperienced, they only have two legitimate scoring options in the starting five, they lack a low-post scoring threat and have a tendency to play faster than necessary at times, etc. -- and nowhere will you see anything about them lacking resolve.

The youngest team remaining in this postseason might very well be the most resilient bunch in either conference final. That would explain the Thunder's unwavering belief that they will rise up from a humbling Game 3 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks in time for tonight's season-defining Game 4 of the Western Conference finals here at Oklahoma City Arena.

The Thunder hasn't lost back-to-back games this postseason and vow not to start now. They're 26-6 after a loss this season and lost back-to-back home games just once during the regular season: Oct. 31 against Utah and then Nov. 7 against Boston.

As green as they appear on paper, the Thunder have clearly mastered the art of bouncing back.

"That's one of our strengths," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "We have toughness and we have a competitive spirit that these guys are very proud. That's a sign of a team that cares about one another. You don't want to lose back-to-back games in the regular season and in the playoffs especially. We've done a good job of protecting against two-game losing streaks.

"I give our guys all the credit. They come back the next day and look at film and ways to get better and always, always come back the next game much better."

They have no choice this time. Down 2-1 in this series with things headed back down Interstate 35 to Dallas for Game 5. If the Thunder don't rebound tonight, that could be a close-out game instead of an opportunity shift the pressure back onto a Mavericks team that has also avoided back-to-back losses in this postseason.

And there is plenty of room for improvement for the Thunder after their uneven showing in Game 3. They were down 17 before they woke up and realized the Mavericks that showed up here were much more focused than the bunch they stunned in Game 2.

If their mood Sunday was any indication, the Thunder were as upset with themselves after squandering an opportunity on their home floor as the folks in this town were to see them squander it.

Normally an easy interview with witty replies and an easy smile, two-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant wore a scowl instead. He answered questions with brief, two and three word answers and refused to elaborate on any details about what was discussed in Sunday's film session.

"We just don't want to lose," said Durant, who insists he will be the aggressor against Mavericks defenders that took the fight to him in his 7-for-22 shooting effort in Game 3.

"It's simple," Durant said. "[I've got to] be more aggressive. Be more aggressive before and after I get the ball. We've got to be first hitters. We've got to come out more aggressive no matter what. And that starts with me."

Aggression alone won't solve the Thunder's problems this late in the season. Success at this stage of the playoffs requires a collective will and energy that they have mustered only in spurts during this series. They can ill afford to spend another game climbing out of a 23-point hole and expect anything but the same result.

Without Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden -- the Thunder's sixth man and third scoring threat -- working in concert with the rest of their crew, the Mavericks will maintain their decided edge in experience and overall game management.

Everything from changes to the starting lineup to scrapping whatever strategy they used to get here is being suggested by the locals, who were convinced three days ago that the Thunder had wrestled away control of this series with just one win.

The Mavericks made the necessary strategic adjustments for Game 3 as well as cranked up their energy at the start. The Thunder have to do the same if they want to even things up at 2-2. They dug down and found what they needed to snatch Game 2 in Dallas, just as the Mavericks did in Game 3.

Now it's the Thunder's move.

"This is playoff basketball. We knew each other's stuff," Brooks said. "This is a physical game and every possession is highly scouted. Doing it and executing with great energy and you have to keep moving until you find good shots. But it's always been that way. And this game won't be any different. We're going to have to fight through their toughness and I anticipate our guys will do that."

They have no choice.

It's win or go-home time for the Thunder.

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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