OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Thunder won’t say they have to win Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors tonight to win the Western Conference finals.
The alternative is less than ideal.
Win at home on Saturday and Oklahoma City will advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012. Lose and the Thunder will be forced to play Game 7 in Oakland. The defending champion Warriors have lost three home games all season.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said his players don’t need to get ahead of themselves worrying about results.
“We’ve got to play the 48 minutes tomorrow night,” Donovan said Friday. “That’s really what it comes down to. You can get caught up in thinking about the future and what the results mean at the end of the game. But the bottom line is the result at the end of the game will happen, and what you don’t want to do is be focused on the result and forget to do your job during the course of 48 minutes.”
Oklahoma City has done the job at home in the series. The Thunder won Game 3 133-105, tying a franchise record for points scored in a playoff game. The Thunder came back with more of the same in Game 4, a 118-94 blowout that put the defending champion Warriors on the brink of elimination. The Warriors know it’s going to take something special to produce a different result at the arena known as Loud City on Saturday.
“It will take all of our IQ, all of our gamesmanship, and just 48 great minutes to get a win down there, considering how the last two games have gone,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.
The Warriors saved their season with a 120-111 win Thursday night in Oakland. There’s still hope that they can defend their title.
“Our guys have had a spectacular run here the last two years,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’ve loved every second of it. They don’t want it to end, and no matter how you look at it, if you’re not the last team standing, it’s tough. It’s a disappointing way to go out. So we want to hang in there. We want to win the next two and get back to the finals.”
Rebounding has been the best indicator in the series. In Oklahoma City’s three wins, the Thunder have outrebounded the Warriors. Golden State has won or tied in that category in both of its wins. The Thunder, the league’s top rebounding team in the regular season, need to take advantage of their size and depth.
“There have been some games in this series where we’ve done a really good job, and there are some games we need to do a better job,” Donovan said. “I’ve said this during the course of the season — you’ve got to be intentional about what you’re doing. We’ll have to go back and start over and understand that that’s really — and has always been in this series — a very, very important ingredient for both teams.”
Golden State got a more typical effort from Curry on Thursday night after two subpar games in Oklahoma City. He scored 31 points on 9-for-20 shooting to fuel the victory. The Warriors believe they have figured out at least part of their problem.
“We play better when we’re having fun,” Curry said. “We played like we were really stressed in OKC, and it showed. Got to bottle up that joy and take it with us on the plane to OKC and be ready on Saturday. It’s going to be an electric atmosphere, and I think we’re ready for the challenge.”