Thunder to Use Inner Strength Tonight

SAN ANTONIO -- The Thunder had the intense, boisterous home crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena behind them in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals, but tonight in Game 5, it won’t have that luxury.

Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club was successful on the road all season long, but it will be extra important for the Thunder to use its own mental toughness and its collective team preparation and communication skills to win. Forward Nick Collison said that his team will trust one another throughout the night and play within its framework, tapping into its mental fortitude to correct itself mid-game.

“We have to be able to do it on our own,” Collison said. “We’ve won a lot on the road this year. We’ve won a lot of difficult games. Winning here in the Playoffs is going to be as tough as any of them, but that mental toughness will be the key.”

On top of the mentality the Thunder will have to employ in this game, the team knows there are a few tactical changes it needs to make in order to succeed. All series long the Thunder has done a good job of scrambling on the defensive end with strong closeouts on shooters and nice rotations over in help defense. Tonight against the potent Spurs offense, that defensive intensity and focus will have to be at a high.

“We’re going to have to be better defensively than we were last game,” Collsion said. “It’s harder on the road to avoid those bad stretches because you don’t have the crowd picking you up and correcting your mistakes. We’re going to have to really be on and be able to play through everything and have second and third efforts. It’s going to be difficult but I think we can do it.”

Much has been made of the importance of tonight’s contest, considering a Game 5 on the road in a 2-2 series could potentially provide a big turning point in the series. Veterans like Derek Fisher have a unique perspective on Playoff basketball, which allows them to see the series in a way that is beneficial to the entire group. Fisher believes that all the outside noise about the status of the series is unimportant, and that the Thunder must solely concentrate on what it can control.

“It’s still basketball,” Fisher said. “Regardless of the series being tied 2-2 or what all the percentages are if this team wins or this team wins, you still have to find a way to play the game that is going to happen on the court tonight. I think once the ball gets tipped off, you have to block all those things out. Just be who you are and play your game, be solid, do the things that got you there, and I think we have a good opportunity to be who we are tonight and give ourselves a chance to win.”

Echoing those comments was Collison, who also understands the value of the team staying within itself by playing the way it wants to with the effort it is capable of displaying. There’s no way to predict how well players will shoot the ball and whether the ball will drop through the net, but the Thunder knows it can dictate intensity and activity on the defensive end and precision and patience on the offensive end.

“We can control our effort and our focus each game,” Collison said. “The simpler you keep it as a basketball player the better, the more you worry about the results of everything, it is harder to focus on what the task is at hand. I think we can always control our effort, always control our focus and I think we’ll be in good shape.”

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