- Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
A storm is threatening in Oklahoma City. The Houston Rockets have blown into town after winning the first two games in this first round series, but the Thunder is coming, and knows if it plays up to its standards at a more sustained level and for a longer portion of the game, it will have a chance to chip into that series lead.
The thunderstorms crashing down on Oklahoma City all day are the precursor to the booming noise that will be coming from the fans inside Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight. That sixth man will serve as an energy boost for the Thunder, who will have to stay emotionally regulated through Houston’s inevitable barrage of three-pointers or highlight plays. In kind, the Thunder will need to play to its style to match those runs, and to be the ones to persevere in the end.
“There’s going to be runs going back and forth,” Donovan said of the Rockets’ style of play. “And I think with us, because we fast break, there’s going to be runs. And you just can’t expect it to be smooth sailing for 48 minutes.”
In Game 2, Donovan played 12 different players, all but one of the guys who were active for the Thunder. Houston will mostly stay stagnant, playing the same eight rotation players throughout the 48 minutes. As a result, Donovan has been creative in utilizing the different talent on the roster, finding minutes for each player and mixing and matching those minutes based on the Rockets’ personnel.
It’s not always as simple as playing your best players for as many minutes as possible. In the playoffs, matchups are king, and so is exploiting them. For the Thunder to win, it has to make sure it has the correct personnel on the floor at the right times against Houston’s lineups.
“Sometimes it’s who is on the floor for them, what they’re running, what kind of situations and what kind of binds are we being put into,” Donovan explained. “When we get put into a couple of those binds, can you create a situation for somebody to go out there and take that bind away and force them to go to something else?”
While on the floor, the Thunder has to concentrate, focus and play with force for all 24 seconds of the shot clock, for all 48 minutes. It’s a test of will and endurance, both physical and mental, to be able to compete at that level for that long. The Thunder needs to take a one possession and one game at a time approach. Veterans like Russell Westbrook understand what it takes to look a 0-2 deficit square in the face and then come back to win a series.
Against the Rockets’ prolific attack, the Thunder has to make sure it is communicating defensively at an extremely high level, but it must also score enough to keep up. Executing, playing with precision and having the emotional stamina to maintain a style of play for an entire game will be critical factors tonight.
“You have to be able to dig in and make sure you are locked in on the actual play, kind of read the play in front of you, especially down the stretch and especially this time of year,” Westbrook said.
“We just have to make plays, make the right decisions,” Westbrook added. “The game will tell you what you need to do.”