The Thunder are finally in the driver's seat. Just when it looked like their season would come to a stunning end, our OKC Thumpers put on a clinic to beat Memphis by twenty in the do-or-die Game 6—their most important game since their run to the Finals two springs ago.
I will be shocked if OKC loses Saturday night. There's no way Memphis team leader and dependable point guard Mike Conley's reinjured right hamstring will allow him to play at a Game 7 playoff pace needed to keep up with Russell Westbrook and the OKC thoroughbreds. The Thunder is favored for the seventh straight game, this time anywhere between 8-10 points, depending on Conley's status. You simply don't lose a decisive game, at home, coming off a confidence-builder for the Good Guys and a confidence-destroyer for the Bad Guys.
As rewarding as Thursday's Game 6 win was, a loss would be equally disgusting. Come Saturday night around 9:46 p.m. OKC will either be the toast of the city or the toast of a world-wide-web of criticism. I say the Thunder rolls and in a matter of 48 hours will have transitioned from a franchise in disarray staring at difficult off season changes to where they are now: a legitimate threat to win that all-important first NBA Championship.
10 THINGS THAT WON GAME 6
1. A dominant start with KD and mates in attack-mode
2. Focused, discipline and determined, OKC executed on both ends possession by possession
3. Smarter decisions including shot selection by Russell Westbrook
4. Unexpected lineup change with Caron Butler's replacing Thabo Sefalosha (who did not play a second) creating more offense which helped open the lane for KD's first quarter barrage
5. Free throw advantage: OKC 23-25 (920 percent) vs. 19-28 (.679%) for Memphis. At half, OKC had shot better from the field (56.1) than Memphis shot from the line (53.8)
6. Closed the half and started the second in dominant fashion. From 40-35 with4:08 second quarter, OKC closed on a 16-6 run and scored the first five points of the third quarter
7. KD got to the FT line like he did in the regular season (15-16)
8. Consistently ran sets vs. set defense. Big bruising teams must be worn down two ways: transition and making them WORK for an entire shot clock, going through multiple screens and having to be responsible for their man and the ball, sideline to sideline. Short possessions don't test conditioning. ZeeBo wore down in the second half
9. Played big and strong and for the sixth straight game OKC out rebounded Memphis (47-36). And a remarkable 11-1 blocked shot advantage
10. OKC out shot Memphis .493 to .373 (OKC has shot under 40% in all three losses). But unlike what the Thunder claim—that the shots "were just going in tonight" the high percentage was a result of taking BETTER shots! And defending better. It's not rocket science
10 THINGS THAT WILL WIN GAME 7
1. Will Mike Conley play and if so how effective will he be? The quintessential leader revealed after the game that it his injury "is much worse" than when it was injured a few weeks ago. And he missed several games after that injury. I believe he will start, be limited and it will be a significant factor in OKC moving on to the semis. The importance of Conley's strained right hammy cannot be overstated. Memphis is down to its third point guard Beno Udrih, who has come back down to Earth—1-7 last night and weak defensively. The loss of back-up Nick Calathes due to flunking a drug test is proving to be a killer
2. A repeat of taking good shots and limiting lay-ups for Memphis. This is a real concern of mine as it'll be easy to slide back into their DNA which is hero ball and juke and jack. They MUST have a repeat performance in terms of fundamentals, beginning with shot selection and limiting Memphis easy opportunities
3. Avoid short, empty possessions that don't stress the Griz defense which has suddenly become thin.
4. No more Mr. Nice Guy for KD. And more of what we saw in the first 9 minutes he got up 8 shots and was fouled while shooting once. Getting into the lane for great looks was a result of fierce determination and the execution of the game plan.
5. Another fast start. Memphis proved Thursday what the players and coach consistently admit: that they can't play from behind against OKC.
6. Break the trend of road teams having won the last three in this series and the road teams owning a 4-2 record
7. Slow down Russell! This is basketball. Not the Olympic 10-meter final
8. Continue to contest Courtney Lee. Butler was solid on D replacing Thabo and Lee will carry a bigger burden with the Conley injury. Lee is just 10-34 in the last four games
9. Get solid if not spectacular production from Reggie Jackson. It's no coincidence that when he plays well the Thunder wins.
10. Refuse to lose