With Saturday night’s grueling Game 3 loss in the rear-view mirror, the Thunder now has to quickly recover and look forward to a must-win Game 4 on Sunday at 7 p.m. Things didn’t necessarily go the its way at the end of the 100-96 loss, but the Thunder still have a chance to even up the series in front of its loyal home crowd before heading back to San Antonio.
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Thunder must avoid fourth quarter collapses
To the surprise of many who have seen the Thunder botch games during the fourth quarter, it was OKC who set the tone in the final frame when a nifty step-back 3-pointer by Russell Westbrook gave the Thunder a four point lead and capped off an 8-to-0 OKC run. The hometown fans were screaming with excitement, while their dynamic point guard let out a roar of his own as Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich opted to call a timeout to rally his troops. What a great decision by Pop.
San Antonio proceeded to score on 10 of its next 11 possessions as Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard all made huge buckets to fuel a 12-to-2 Spurs’ run. The Thunder had suddenly given up yet another fourth quarter lead, but this time at home in the most important game of the season.
“It’s the playoffs man, teams make runs. I wouldn’t say it’s the late game struggles,” Kevin Durant said at Saturday’s practice. “But you tend to look at the fourth quarter but it’s a lot of stuff in the first second and third quarters that we need to control too that affects the fourth. The fourth quarter is not just its own game, we got to put a great 48 minutes together.”
It was disheartening for OKC to stumble like that, especially in a game where it felt like they could’ve won if not for three crunch time turnovers shared by both Westbrook and Durant.
“When you’re trying to be aggressive, as me and Russell are, trying to create for everybody out on the court, sometimes they may happen,” Durant said of the turnovers.
OKC must come out with an aggressive mentality yet again in Game 4, but must find a way to hold onto a fourth quarter lead if they don’t want to be staring at a 3-1 deficit.
Silver lining in Game 3 loss: OKC clawed back from mammoth deficit
The Thunder has seen its share of struggles scoring points when its second unit’s on the floor, and the first half of Game 3 was no exception. Westbrook was replaced by Cameron Payne with 2:48 left in the first quarter with the Thunder trailing 23-20, but the Thunder went the next 7:30 seconds without scoring a single point. A pair of Westbrook free throws finally broke the drought with 8:10 left in the third, but even with the shots from the charity stripe, OKC was suddenly staring at a whopping 13-point deficit.
A lot of the blame can be pointed at lapses on the defensive end of the floor, where the Thunder allowed the Spurs to score 17 fast break points while draining 10-of-19 shots from behind the arc.
“We’ve got to get back in transition, you know they score a lot of points in transition and you know, they didn’t score a lot in the half-court offense, our defense was pretty good in the paint,” Durant said. “They had 20 points in the paint out of their 100 points, so 80 of them were either at the free throw line, the three-point line or some tough twos. We did a good job controlling the paint, but they made shots and got easy buckets in transition.”
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But unlike in Game 1 when the Thunder was completely blown out of the water, the Thunder wasn’t backing down after finding itself in a huge hole to climb out of. Immediately after San Antonio’s 13-to-0 run, OKC was able to put together both a 9-to-2 run and an 8-to-2 run at different parts of the second quarter as the Thunder got back within five points before intermission.
Obviously the Thunder let things slip away later in the game, but the fact OKC was able to recover from such a huge deficit against a historically good team like the Spurs says a whole lot.
“We’ve got to continue to trust each other and trust in the guys that knock down shots and make plays. We put ourselves in position to win the basketball game, that’s all that matters,” Durant said.
Thunder won’t give up on series
After back-to-back grind-it-out battles in Games 2 and 3 of the series, there’s no doubt that OKC can compete with the Spurs any time the ball is rolled out on the hardwood, and it’s obvious the Thunder feel that way too. Despite falling in Game 3 and feeling that its back is against the wall, the Thunder knows there’s a lot of basketball still to be played and that it’s important to bounce back from the loss.
“I feel that every game is a must-win in the playoffs, and that’s how I try to look at it, especially when we’re down in the series,” Durant said. “Just go out there and let it fly, go out there and play my game, enjoy the process, enjoy the moment, and good results will come from it.”
When it comes to the team’s mindset as the series continues, Westbrook made it clear he believes this series is still winnable even though the Thunder dropped a game in Oklahoma City.
“One game at a time, first team to four, that’s all. We’ve got to take it one game at a time regardless of where you win it at,” Westbrook said.