After losing Game 3 at home on Friday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder now face the daunting task of having to beat the San Antonio Spurs in three of the next four games to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
It's a daunting task: the Spurs posted one of the 10 best regular season records of all-time and theoretically could've won more had they not routinely rested players.
So how will the Thunder approach Game 4?
Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman writes that it might be time to consider playing stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook a full 48 minutes and, if not, at least more than they've been playing.
As elimination looms, Donovan seems to trust seven guys with heavy minutes. Payne is a wild card. He's had a small role in the first three games, but the rookie has struggled...Don't expect either of the stars to go the full 48. But a few extra minutes for Westbrook here and Durant there could make the small difference OKC needs against this deep Spurs team.
But Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World highlighted a more persistent problem: the Thunder's inability to close out games in the fourth quarter.
Even when the Thunder had a four-point lead at the midway mark of Friday’s fourth period, it felt like the Spurs were destined to win. Why? Because Oklahoma City has been cursed all season by fourth-quarter breakdowns. During the final two minutes, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant committed turnovers that led to San Antonio baskets. During the regular season, there were Thunder home games against three non-playoff teams — the New York Knicks, Sacramento and Minnesota — that were decided during the final minute. In all three, Oklahoma City was beaten.
That puts the Thunder in an interesting dilemma: on the one, it would seem logical to assume that the Thunder should keep their stars rested so they're fresh down the stretch; on the other, they've blown fourth quarter leads so many times in so many different circumstances this season that there has to be a different explanation...so why not play them more minutes and reduce the time relying on the bench?