In what could be the biggest game in Thunder history, OKC will host Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals as the Thunder holds a 3-2 series lead on the defending champion Warriors. Tip is set for 8 p.m. inside of Chesapeake Energy Arena, and here are three key storylines heading into the contest:
Play your role
In the Thunder’s 28 point win in Game 3 and its 24 point win in Game 4, the key to victory was undoubtedly the play of OKC’s role players. Billy Donovan opted to run a smaller lineup featuring both Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters, and the guards thrived in front of a rowdy home crowd. In the two wins in OKC, Roberson averaged 15 points and nine rebounds while Waiters averaged 11.5 points and was a definite sparkplug off the bench.
OKC clearly plays its best basketball when its role players are clicking on all cylinders, and there was evidence of that in the Thunder’s Game 5 loss, as Roberson was limited to six points and Waiters was held scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting.
Historically role players perform better in front of their home crowd, so therefore some of the duo’s Game 5 woes can be attributed to the stellar Oracle Arena crowd, but one would think things could turnaround with nearly 19,000 Thunder fans providing positive energy.
Box out Bogut
Donovan’s shift to “small ball” completely changed the series around for OKC, as the Thunder was able to take advantage of its vast length from that lineup, while exposing a smaller Draymond Green, who logged a lot of minutes at the center position. Green wasn’t able to match the length of Serge Ibaka or Kevin Durant in the post, while his rim protection was a bit suspect as well.
Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr was ready with a lineup change, as the second year coach looked to Andrew Bogut to counteract the Thunder’s attack. After only averaging 14 minutes in the first four games of the series, Bogut played 30 minutes in Game 5 and in turn scored 15 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Not only was he stuffing the stat sheet, but he was protecting the rim from the Thunder’s attack and limited OKC to its worst shooting percentage from the paint all season.
Kerr was able to make that adjustment to save his team from elimination, and now it’s Donovan’s turn to figure out his next move to counteract the Bogut issue.
Must win game
The Thunder has the luxury of holding a 3-2 lead over the Warriors in the series, but tonight’s game must be treated as if it were Game 7 in the eyes of the Thunder players. This will be the only chance OKC has to close out the series at home, seeing the Warriors would host a Game 7 if necessary. Historically, home teams have won 80 percent of the time when playing a Game 7 on their own turf, so the Thunder will need take care of business in Game 6 if they want to avoid a tough trip back to Oakland.