Unthinkable just a week ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder can send the San Antonio Spurs packing out of the postseason should they prove victorious in Game 6 of their best-of-seven series Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Thunder managed to learn from their dreadful 32-point loss in the series’ opening matchup, and have since taken three of the four, including two on the Spurs home court, for a 3-2 lead and the chance to bounce San Antonio for the first time since 2012’s Western Conference Finals.
Oklahoma City’s enjoyed otherworldly offensive performances from stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in their last wins. Durant’s garnered special praise for his defense on San Antonio’s leading-scorer Kawhi Leonard and at times guard Danny Green.
"Kevin is one of our better perimeter defenders," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, according to San Antonio News-Express. "Kevin is a rare guy. He gets a lot of credit for his offense — and rightfully so — but last series he was guarding J.J. Barea. (Now) he's guarding Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green. There have been times he's been on (Boris) Diaw. There's been times he was on Dirk (Nowitzki in the first round).
"I've got a lot of confidence in Kevin defensively. He's smart. He's long. He's got a good understanding of positioning, how to get his length involved. I don't think people realize what a terrific defender he is."
Durant and Westbrook, along with big men Enes Kanter and Steven Adams playing very well, will have to repeat their solid defensive performances in order to knock the 67-win Spurs out of these playoffs.
The Spurs have been off from long-range and in particular have struggled scoring in the fourth-quarter. In Game 5, a 95-91 Thunder win, San Antonio went 8-for-18 from deep, but six of those makes belonged to Green, and in Game 4 they were held to 2-for-12 shooting from three-point range and managed only 16 fourth-quarter points compared to Oklahoma City’s 34.
The Thunder have in particular clamped down on Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The first-year Spur totaled 79 points and shot 75 percent from the field in the first two games, and while he’s scored 20 or more points in the last three games Aldridge hasn’t connected anywhere close to the same clip. Game 5 was especially hard for Aldridge as he went 6-for-21 from the field.
Tipoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Betting Odds: San Antonio -2 points
Over/Under: 197 points
Prediction: San Antonio over Oklahoma City, 102-95