, Muskogee, OK


May 1, 2014

Thunder face do-or-die tonight

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Derek Fisher has been here before. The 5-time world champion has faced every possible situation imaginable in the postseason at one time or another.

So, it should not have been a surprise that it was Fisher who Oklahoma City chose to speak to the media the day before the team’s biggest game of the season.

Trailing 3-2 in the best of seven series, the Thunder are on the verge of seeing their season come to a quick and decisive end if they are unable to pull out a Game 6 victory against Memphis tonight at the Fed Ex Forum.

In 2002, Fisher was part of a Lakers squad that fell behind 3-2 and came back to beat the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference Finals. He is living proof it can be done.

But instead of panicking and trying to invent some new gimmicks to get past a battle-tested Grizzlies squad, Fisher says the team needs to just believe in what has gotten them to this point.

“It’s us not doing what we’ve talked about doing since I’ve been here,” Fisher said. “Our coaching staff has continued to reinforce the same messages, we work on and drill the same things in practice. We work on tons of drills where if there’s two people on the ball you move it to the next guy, but it’s just part of the breakthrough of a team.”

It seems impossible to believe that a squad that is two years removed from playing in the NBA finals is still seeking a breakthrough moment. But that is where the Thunder find themselves.

“It is very hard in the most pressure packed and most emotional times to actually go out there and do that and that’s the challenge for us,” Fisher said. “Our organization is built around unselfish guys, our players are like that and our coaches are like that.”

The two people facing the most pressure on Oklahoma City are soon to be named MVP Kevin Durant and coach Scott Brooks. Both have come under fire during the series. That includes some fans and media members saying Brooks’ job is on the line if the team is knocked out in the first round.

Despite that, Brooks is attempting to show a confident persona heading into the win-or-go-home contest.

“You have to win four games to win a series,” Brooks said. “They’re one game ahead of us right now. We have a great opportunity to go in there and play with a lot of confidence, a lot of composure and give ourselves a chance to win.”

The last time the two teams met in the “Grindhouse,” Oklahoma City escaped with a 92-89 overtime victory. But it wasn’t Durant who came to the rescue when the team needed it. It was reserve third-year guard Reggie Jackson.

Yet, with the Thunder on the brink of elimination, it’s times like this that superstars show why they are superstars. The likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Shaq, Michael Jordan, Kobe and LeBron have all been in situations like this and found a way to will their team to victory.

So far this postseason, Durant has not been able to raise his game to his own standards.

Twice in this series alone, Durant has had last second shots that could have won games for the Thunder and put an end to the series. But he missed both, along with missing more than half the shot attempts he’s taken in the five games. He’s shooting 40 percent from the field and just 28.6 percent on 3-pointers.

Now that the pressure has been heaped on his shoulders, what Durant will do is the biggest question that needs answering.

“In the playoffs there has to be a sense of urgency that just doesn’t wane,” Fisher explained. “It is always on level 100. You can then work your way through everything else. What can’t dip down is that undying sense of urgency that every play and every possession is the most important one and you just find a way to make good things happen.”

But it’s more than Durant, or Russell Westbrook ( shooting 18.4 percent from 3-point range) that need to stand up and be counted. It the entire group from the coach on down whose playoff lives are on the line. More than that, tonight could be the final time fans see this core group together if they don’t find a way to bring it all together.

“It’s not about the points, the numbers and the minutes played and who gets the shots,” Fisher said. “It’s really about those small things that people mostly don’t notice until you’re not doing them. A free throw box out, a loose ball, a bad decision in transition down the stretch — those are things that add up. There aren’t any things happening out there that we can’t control. This is about us. Obviously you have to give your opponent credit, but this about us being better than who we’ve been these first five games. We’re very confident that we can be tomorrow.”

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