Thunder to give its all for 48 Minutes

MIAMI -- Down, sure, but definitely not out. That’s the mentality this Thunder team embodied when it trailed the San Antonio Spurs 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals, and exhibited today at shootaround before its Game 5 tilt against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

The series may stand at 3-1 in Miami’s favor, but the Thunder needs only to win Game 5 in order to force the series back to Chesapeake Energy Arena for a potential Game 6. The Thunder is a resilient team that always believes in one another and the team concept as a whole through thick and thin. Over the four seasons that the Thunder has been in Oklahoma City, it has continued to learn that if it plays a full four quarters of its best, hardest basketball, it will give itself a chance to win and can live with the results.

“Most think we don’t have a chance but we have a chance,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “We have to play basketball for 48 minutes and our guys are capable of doing that. They’ve done it all year. We just have to put together one great game of toughness, of physicality, passing, moving, cutting, making shots. It definitely is not impossible. We have a great opportunity tonight.”

Despite the implications of what will happen depending on the outcome of tonight’s game, the Thunder has been able to manage its expectations and focus solely on what lays in front of it all year. Veterans like Derek Fisher, no stranger to Playoff basketball, and particularly the Finals, believe in simply locking in on what they can control. For the Thunder, that’s just tonight’s game.

“(The Heat) have to come out and play, we have to come out and play,” Fisher said. “It’s still the first team to four. Right now they have three. We have to win tonight to keep them from getting four. It’s pretty simple.”

One of the ways the Thunder has had success in this series, and this Playoff run, has been when it really executes its own game plan and imprinted its style on the game. In the first quarter of Game 4, the Thunder played with a high paced, rebound-and-run tempo which helped propel it to a 33-16 start against the Heat. If it can maintain that pace and play it consistently and effectively for a full 48 minutes, there’s a good chance the Thunder will once again be in a good place to execute down the stretch and get a win.

The orchestrator of the Thunder’s offense and transition offense is Russell Westbrook, who will look to follow up his 43-point, seven-rebound, five-assist Game 4 with an even better game. On Thursday morning he again emphasized that his personal statistics don’t matter, and that it’s all about winning.

“Just come out and play our game,” Westbrook said. “We’ll just try to get focused and ready for tonight. … If we come out and give it all we have and go by the game plan and do what we need to do, I think we can live with the result at the end of the game.”

Westbrook has shown a clear jump in leadership this season and even in this NBA Finals, with great body language, maturity and focus with his teammates. While all that improvement is part of his natural progression as a player and part of the Thunder’s development program, but Westbrook has credited Fisher with helping him along the way too.

Every player on the Thunder team has learned from Fisher and other veterans like Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed that it is just as critical to help their team with winning plays of all varieties. Making shots is an important aspect of the game, but Fisher said that in order for the Thunder to win, it must focus on doing the little things and making the right plays.

“Whether you’re making shots or not, you just figure out ways to help your team get a win that night,” Fisher said. “That’s what we all have to do, and that’s what we expect from ourselves. We’re going to hold each other accountable for playing the entire game, not just making shots. Playing defense, playing hard, playing with passion and most importantly playing together. And we believe we can win if we do those things.”