What’s going to happen tonight in game 6 between the Thunder, winners of their last 3, and Spurs, winners of 20 of their last 23?
San Antonio has to go into Chesapeake Energy Solutions Arena (if it hasn’t already been renamed) and get a win against a team that’s beaten them in three straight. The Thunder don’t exactly have the easiest of tasks either. The pressure is about as high as its ever been for the young franchise (FORMERLY OF SEATTLE). If the Thunder lose tonight, skeptics will say the series is lost for them because there’s no way they’re going back to San Antonio in a game 7 and getting win. So tonight is a must-win for the Thunder, even when it really isn’t.
It actually is a must-win for San Antonio, but because Duncan, Manu and Tony are veterans, they have been in this position before and know how to rise to the pressure. Unless OKC rises before them. If San Antonio doesn’t come out hot, they’ll get the crowd involved, and if the crowd’s involved and the Thunder are loose, that’s it for Voltron.
More importantly, at least to Pop, is playing tougher. Standing up and playing like a grown-ass man. Playing like you have to play to be a champion. The Spurs know this, they know he just wants more physicality, more dirty, more, nasty.
”’It’s not effort,’ said coach Gregg Popovich. ‘Competitiveness is a little bit different. Physicality. I thought we just kind of followed them around in the first half and whatever they wanted to run we followed them and tried to guard them. They’re into us. They’re playing physical and I don’t think we did that in the first half. Guys are trying, but it’s a different thing than being physical and playing with a little bit of ugly.’
So to take a page out of Pop’s own book, the Spurs need some nasty?
‘Yeah, that kind of stuff,’ he said. ‘I’m trying to stay away from that word.’”
The Spurs are going to be a much tougher out than the Heat. There can be no doubt in the Thunder’s mind about this, but overall, the Thunder are better. Manu and Harden plus Russ and Tony cancel each other out, but the rest of the lineup’s overwhelmingly favor the Thunder. Matt Bonner is a nice 3-point shooter and a smart player, but he’s not a lock-down defender like Thabo Sefolosha. Serge Ibaka is a whole helluva lot better than DeJuan Blair and an aging Tim Duncan (Duncan can still have his moments, like the last 5 minutes of game 5), but almost to a man, the Thunder have the Spurs beat; the Spurs just played better together than the Thunder did in games 1 & 2. But right now, the Thunder squad seems composed of perfectly complementary pieces; they fit together better than a lot of people thought and sorta remind me of the Spurs a while back.
The Spurs are Voltron, but the Thunder might be a stronger cast of the Voltron Force. Childhood anime analogies just really make sense in this context :)
Hopefully Tony and the Spurs get some calls tonight because they might need them to keep it close.
I know Popovich is just hoping the Spurs can get physical enough to squeeze out a tight win and force a much more winnable game 7 at home.
I think OKC seizes the moment and makes the next step to the NBA Finals. I think, being the operative word there. It’s Popovich and the Spurs, afterall.