OKLAHOMA CITY – Down and nearly out less than a week ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder are riding a momentum shift to the brink of the NBA finals.
With three straight wins, the Thunder have changed the conversation from how anyone can stop the San Antonio Spurs’ record-setting 20-game winning streak to how Oklahoma City needs just one win on its home court in Game 6 tonight to play for the NBA title.
Hundreds of fans waited in the middle of the night for the Thunder’s plane to land after Game 5, and thousands more will pack Chesapeake Energy Arena to cheer on Oklahoma City. Yet coach Scott Brooks urged Tuesday that riding the momentum isn’t enough to get the job done.
“We have a great oppor- tunity, we’re on our home floor, but that doesn’t guarantee automatic victory,” Brooks said during a day off at the team’s practice facility. “They’re not going to give us the game. They’re not just going to say, ‘We’ve lost three in a row, we’re going to give in.’ ”
Brooks stood near the same spot just a week earlier, surprised when a reporter told him that only 6 percent of NBA teams over the years had overcome a 0-2 deficit in a seven-game series. Now, his Thunder could become only the 15th team to pull off the feat – and the eighth since 2004.
“The percentages, you can’t really feed into that because you know that there’s always a chance,” Brooks said.
A series of defensive adjustments by Brooks helped turn the series, with 6-foot-7 Thabo Sefolosha switching onto All-Star point guard Tony Parker in Game 3 the most visible change. The Spurs have been tinkering since to get back in the groove they’d been riding since mid-April but instead have lost three straight games for the first time all season.
Coach Gregg Popovich put sixth man Manu Ginobili in the starting lineup for Game 5, getting a playoff-best 34 points from the Argentine guard but disrupting the bench rotation in the process. He has also inserted DeJuan Blair back in the mix after benching the former starter for the first part of the playoffs.
“I think we have the right game plan,” Spurs All-Star Tim Duncan said. “We just need to play a little better for a little longer.”
After being blown out by 20 in Game 3, the Spurs have lost the last two by a combined nine points and now must find a way to snap Oklahoma City’s seven-game home win streak.
“It’s not that we have a Game 8 or 9 to recover, so it’s either win or go home,” Ginobili said. “So we have to. It’s our job.”