San Antonio obliterated OKC in Games 1 and 2, winning by a combined 52 points. The Spurs appeared poised to either sweep the series or reach the NBA Finals in a modest five games.
The Thunder, however, flipped that script by returning to their home floor and riding the valiant return of Serge Ibaka to two straight victories—knotting the series.
Still, the one constant has been home-court advantage. With their return to AT&T Center, the Spurs once again put a beating on OKC. They won Game 5 by an ugly 28-point margin, 117-89.
At times, the Spurs have looked downright dominant. During Games 3 and 4, however, Oklahoma City’s defense forced San Antonio to shoot below 40 percent from the floor—a truly abysmal stat.
The home team has won every game in this series. Will that narrative continue to play out in Game 6 at Chesapeake Energy Arena or will the Spurs close things out with a win and return to the Finals?
Seeds: Oklahoma City Thunder No. 2; San Antonio Spurs No. 1
Series: Spurs lead 3-2
Schedule for Series: Game 6 Saturday, May 31, 8:30 p.m. ET (TNT); Game 7* Monday, June 2, 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
* = If necessary
Key Storyline for Oklahoma City Thunder
In order to stave off elimination at the hands of the top-seeded Spurs, OKC’s two superstars will have to emulate the transcendent performances they put on in Game 4.
In the 105-92 series-tying victory, Westbrook and KD combined for an absurd 71 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and eight steals. They dominated the game in just about every facet.
"Anytime you're on a graphic next to Michael Jordan...you're doing something well." Steve Kerr on Russell Westbrook pic.twitter.com/RPLAlqcaLv— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 30, 2014
It’s not entirely fair to expect another historically great performance from the dynamic duo. Nevertheless, Westbrook and Durant will be the catalysts that decide whether a return to San Antonio for Game 7 is necessary.
Durant won 2013-14 MVP honors for a reason. Unless he wants to fall short of the Larry O’Brien Trophy once again—he doesn’t—he’ll need to set the tone offensively with an efficient showing.
Key Storyline for San Antonio Spurs
Can the Spurs put together one dominant—or at least competent—showing away from their home fans?
In its three Western Conference Finals victories thus far, San Antonio has shot 50 percent or better from the field every time. In both losses, it's been uncharacteristically dreadful by shooting worse than 40 percent overall.
In truth, the only Spur who has produced on a consistent basis is Manu Ginobili. He's averaging 15.2 points per game while shooting 56.5 percent from the field and a ridiculously efficient 60.9 percent from downtown.
Tony Parker struggled in Ibaka's Game 3 return because he couldn't drive to the rim on every play without the threat of having his shot swatted away.
Tim Duncan—usually the model of consistency—scored just nine points in Game 4. Danny Green, too, has either been sniping threes or producing little of note.
Gregg Popovich would obviously love for his team to channel its inner Terminator by clicking on all cylinders offensively. Still, even an average performance on the offensive end would put the Spurs in a favorable position to close out this series on the road.
San Antonio has averaged 26 assists per game in its wins and 19.5 dimes in the two losses. Ball movement and the level of play from Pop’s second unit will be key.
For head coach Scott Brooks—who finally decided to mix up his starting five—newly minted starting guard Reggie Jackson continues to be the team’s biggest X-factor.
During the first quarter of Game 5, Jackson lit up like the Human Torch. He finished the quarter with 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting and ensured that the high-scoring first 12 minutes of action would be knotted 32-32.
Mr. May? Reggie Jackson starts the game off 5-5 for 11 points. Thunder up 24-19. #NBAPlayoffs— NBA (@NBA) May 30, 2014
In 29 minutes after the torrid start, however, the 24-year-old turned the ball over twice and was 0-of-5 from the field for zero points.
The poor performance from the second quarter on was likely the result of a sprained ankle Jackson suffered during Game 4. His hot streak to begin the game was a great sign, but he wasn't able to sustain that level of play.
In four games against San Antonio during the regular season, Jackson averaged 21.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He consistently torched the Spurs and seemed to relish playing against the best, but this series has been a different story. He’s notching just 10 points per game.
With OKC’s season on the line, it will need consistent play from its newest starter. At the very least, he won't use the injury as an excuse.
Reggie Jackson: "When game time comes, I have no injury." - pic.twitter.com/edTCvuxWfy— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 29, 2014
As for the Spurs, the play of Boris Diaw off the sideline will be key to countering Brooks’ various rotations.
The veteran Frenchman can play small ball or fit in beside other bigs. He’s shooting 38.1 percent in losses and 55 percent in wins, so his play beside Ginobili off the bench will provide a solid barometer for the Spurs’ success.
As long as he's making the right passes, while not being too unselfish, the Spurs have to like their chances.
Key Matchup: Kevin Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard
Game 6 could very easily become a defining moment for these two supremely talented small forwards.
Durant’s MVP season is on the line at home. Fans can be sure that he won’t go down without leaving every ounce of his energy out on the court.
Leonard, meanwhile, has an opportunity to crush KD’s title hopes with a solid performance of his own.
He certainly doesn’t have to lock Durant down on defense—honestly, that’s close to impossible. However, if he makes Durant work for every bucket, stays in his jersey on the perimeter and doesn’t allow clean looks from downtown, KD's scoring efficiency will suffer the consequences.
If Leonard puts his stamp on this game from the outset by getting easy baskets in transition, it will be a long 48-minute stretch for Durant and Co.
Making predictions for this series is a bit of a crapshoot at this point.
From what we’ve seen so far, the Spurs will either dominate offensively and win by double digits in the process, or their offense will sputter and OKC will ride its stars to victory—with no in-between.
Which team will win?
That seems like a bit of a wild card at this juncture, given the volatile nature of his performances. Nonetheless, the Thunder tend to play their best basketball when backed into a corner.
Durant should prove his MVP chops en route to a seventh game, which seemed inevitable entering this series (prior to Ibaka’s injury news).
To this point, the home team has won every game. That narrative seems like it will continue all the way to the bitter end of the Western Conference Finals.
Thunder defeat Spurs 107-104