OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder guard Derek Fisher has played more playoff games than anyone in history.
He says the Western Conference finals between the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, filled with major strategy shifts and home blowouts, has produced one of the wildest series he’s been involved in. San Antonio leads 3-2 and can close out it out Saturday in Oklahoma City.
“There’s no script for this,” Fisher said. “You can try to set expectations, and everybody can sit around and try and predict what’s going to happen and which team is going to come out on top, and it’s just impossible. That’s what makes sports sports, and why people are so excited about either being there or watching it, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks have one-upped each other with shrewd moves during the series, and the scoreboard has tipped dramatically with each change.
Oklahoma City came up with the first major lineup changes in Game 3. Defensive wiz Serge Ibaka returned to Oklahoma City’s starting lineup after suffering what was thought to be a season-ending left calf strain and Reggie Jackson moved into the starting lineup to help the Thunder win Game 3, 107-96, and Game 4, 105-92.
In Game 5 in San Antonio, the Spurs’ decision to go with perimeter-shooting post players alongside Tim Duncan helped the team’s floor spacing, and the Spurs rolled to a 117-89 win. Matt Bonner got his first start of the season, and his presence helped Duncan get off to a fast start. Boris Diaw started the second half and scored seven points in the third quarter to help the Spurs take a 20-point lead at the end of the period. Popovich’s move forced Ibaka, the league’s leading shot blocker during the regular season, away from the basket, and the Spurs’ perimeter players had an easier time getting to the hoop.
“The adjustments that the coaches made were very efficient tonight,” Diaw said after the game. “We tried to space the floor a little more. We came back to the way we were aggressive in the first two games. Going from good to great. That’s what Pop has asked all year, that’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
When Brooks was asked if he might start Ibaka at center to prevent the Spurs from pulling him away from the basket, Brooks ruled nothing out.
“Anything’s possible,” he said. “We just have to, whoever we put out there, we just have to play better.”
Thunder forward Kevin Durant said lineup changes, though important, are secondary to effort. He said Oklahoma City did not play with enough intensity in Game 5.
“Schemes and Xs and Os, it all goes out the door,” he said. “We’ve just got to play harder. They did last game, so we’ve got to match up.”
Brooks said the key for Oklahoma City is defense. San Antonio has shot at least 50 percent from the field in all three of its wins. If the Thunder don’t get stops, they can’t get into their dangerous fast break attack.
“We know their plays, they know our plays, and we just have to be able to execute with maximum effort to give ourselves a chance to get a stop,” Brooks said. “That’s what it comes down to.”
The lineup changes have coincided with venue changes. The home teams have won every game in the series by at least nine points, and by an average of 20.4 per game. Popovich was at a loss to explain why the series has played out this way.
“It seems like the home team each time looks to have the greater passion or physicality,” he said. “That’s hard to measure because both teams want to win just as bad as the other.”
Durant said the effort must be there Saturday night or the trend of home blowouts — and Oklahoma City’s season — will end.
“We know that it’s a situation where we lose, we go home, and nobody wants to do that, so we just leave it all out there and whatever happens we live with,” Durant said. “Most of the time when we play extremely hard, play well, play together, we come out on top.”