May 1st, 2014
Laying It All On the Line

MEMPHIS – The Thunder can’t control those possessions that slipped away in its three overtime losses during its first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies. All it can control is tonight.

In Game 6 of its Western Conference first round series, the Thunder trails 3-2 and is playing for its playoff lives tonight in Memphis. The x’s and o’s will be important as always, but to the Thunder, the will to win, the collective focus, trust and intensity are the more critical factors to success. Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club has been built on its ability to stick together in tough moments and persevere through adversity. Thursday here in Memphis, it has the chance to prove once again that those traits are engrained in its DNA as a team.

“All you can do is play as hard as you can and play for your teammates every possession,” Brooks said. “Tonight is another opportunity for us to do that for 48 minutes.”

The mindset in this one will start from the opening tip. However, team leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, along with veterans like Derek Fisher, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins, have made sure that the past 48 hours since Game 5 have been spent the right way to prepare for that moment when the ball soars into the air for the first time.

The Thunder knows that tonight’s game will be won based on which team can sustain its defensive effort and intensity for the longest period of time throughout the evening. A core tenet of the Thunder’s gameplan has been to turn defense into offense. If Brooks’ club can contain dribble penetration, force difficult, contested shots from midrange and rebound, it will give itself a chance to get out and push the tempo.

“It always comes down to our effort on the defensive end and that allows us to get into transition,” Brooks said. “We have to do a good job of that tonight.”

“You have to put pressure on the basketball, do a good job of containing the ball and not allowing it break our defense down,” Brooks explained. “If it does, we have to have our defenders in the back ready to help out in our shell.”

Despite injuries and adversity throughout the year, the Thunder managed to live by that defense-to-offense strategy all season long, racking up 59 wins and the second seed in the Western Conference, along with the second best record in the NBA. As a result, this Thunder squad is confident in itself, trusts its abilities and knows that regardless of where any game is played, it has a chance to come away victorious. Expect a loose, energetic and ball-hawking Thunder squad tonight as the Thunder tries to push the series to a seventh game back at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“We’ve won here before,” Westbrook said. “Regardless of where we play, we know we can beat this team. They’re obviously a tougher team at home. We just have to play our game.” “You have to enjoy the moment and lay it all out on the line,” Durant said. “Everybody in this team knows that.”