- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
HOUSTON – In Billy Donovan’s mind, tonight’s Game 5 in Houston might as well be Game 7. At some point in this series, the Thunder was going to have to win on the road. Tonight’s as good a night as any to get it done.
This Thunder squad may be the youngest team in the playoffs this season, but it does have leadership and even its youthful players have postseason experience. Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison have been through every type of playoff battle imaginable. Taj Gibson’s time in Chicago taught him a lot too. But even Andre Roberson and Steven Adams know what it’s like to go into a hostile environment and come out with a victory. That’s the task on the agenda tonight.
“We have to win one. That’s it,” Westbrook said. “We just worry about the next game and the outside people and outside things don’t mean anything. The only thing that matters is the people in this building.”
“We’re going to have to win a game on the road in this series at some point,” Donovan added. “The only thing that matters for us right now is focusing on what’s in front of us, and that’s Game 5 in Houston. That’s all we’ve put our mindset on.”
Down 3-1, it might seem that the Thunder has struggled in this series, but that’s been far from the case. In each of the past three games, the Thunder has held a double digit lead and has shown that it can impose its will offensively and defensively for large stretches of games. Tonight, it will be a matter of doing it for all 48 minutes.
“Every game we’ve played we’ve done things we need to do better and better,” Donovan noted. “There are still areas where we can get better and improve.”
Against this Rockets team, particularly on the road, the Thunder has to fight against the momentum Houston can create off of their runs. When the Rockets are firing from the three-point line and getting dunks in transition or the half court, the Thunder has to be able to settle down, execute on their possessions at a high level and then dig deep defensively to get stops.
“The game changes, so you have to be able to withstand runs especially against teams like that because they shoot a lot of threes and create situations where they make runs,” Westbrook explained. “You have to be able to withstand them for 48 minutes.”
During the regular season, the Thunder was better at home than on the road, where it finished with a 19-22 record, but that’s typical for any NBA team. There’s no special trick for winning away from home, or winning a closeout game. The work that’s required is the same as any other game – focus, concentration and determination for every minute of action and on every possession. Many of these Thunder players haven’t been in these situations before, but the Thunder has always thrived on young players performing in crucial situations. Tonight, they’ll have to do it again.
“Everyone’s grown up. They all know what’s at stake. I’m not going to tell them a bedtime story and they’ll come out all good,” center Steven Adams quipped. “It’s moreso they’re going to come out and make sure they’re going to do what they do at a high level. That’s everyone.”