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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About (Game) Six, But Were Afraid to Ask

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All right, Lakers. You pulled out of your nosedive by drilling the Thunder in Game Five. That was some solid work. Now it's time to finish the gig. Are you going to do this the easy way or the hard way?

I think we're all feeling pretty secure about the Lakers' odds of reaching the second round. In five games at Staples this season, the Thunder are now 0-5. Even if they force a Game Seven, they'd be staring down the barrel of having to win in a building where they've been thwarted time and again. Away from their screeching home crowd, they're not even close to the same team.

Can we agree, though, that it would be better not even to deal with the concept of a Game Seven? For one thing, the Lakers could use all the rest they can get. For another, strange things can happen in the span of 48 minutes. A critical injury, bizarre officiating, horrendously cold shooting... you never know. There's a reason the phrase "small sample size" was coined. It's because over short time spans, there can be weird variability in results. The better team will win out in the long run, but a single game is anything but that.

I vote for a win tonight to put these meddling kids behind us once and for all.

In Game Five, the Lakers hit on the correct formula for disposing of the Thunder. Slice up OKC's defense with aggressive drives, crisp ball movement and easy looks at the rim for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Disorient Russell Westbrook by putting a real defender on him. Exploit his sometimes-questionable decisions by jumping the passing lanes. Control the defensive glass. Find a way to get Adam Morrison some run in the fourth quarter.

If the Lakers execute tonight as well as they did on Tuesday, this series won't go back to Staples. Of course, that's deeply improbable. Game Five was a near-perfect performance that's not likely to repeated anywhere, let alone in OKC's rollicking home barn. The crowd is going to be ear-splitting, and the Thunder will draw energy from it. The locals will browbeat the refs into calls and non-calls that we'll find infuriating. If there's one thing this series has taught us, it's that home court is hugely influential.

I don't, however, think that Scott Brooks can stick with his standard gameplan and wait for home-court advantage to carry him to a win. The Lakers can sniff the next round. They're rested and seemingly healthier than they've been in a while. They know they averted catastrophe by winning Game Five, and they'll want to put this one away. I'd be surprised if we saw another mail-in job like the one that turned Game Four into an abject humiliation.

Brooks has to push some new buttons if he wants to revive OKC's upset hopes. In particular, he can't keep burning almost 60 minutes a game on Jeff Green and Thabo Sefolosha. Those two are killing the Thunder's offense. They're missing too many open shots and allowing the Lakers to sag and collapse on Westbrook and Kevin Durant. T-Sef purportedly is their Kobe Stopper, but given Kobe's various infirmities, I don't know that the Mamba's offense should be the Thunder's primary concern at the moment. Brooks needs the scoring pop that James Harden supplies. If they don't get back to drilling open shots, Sefolosha's defense on Kobe won't make any difference in the series outcome.

I've got a wacky stat that'll melt your cortex. Effective field-goal percentage, as many of you know, is just raw field-goal percentage with 50% extra credit for three-pointers. League average EFG this season was 50.1%. But in nine games against the Lakers this year, the Thunder have never once hit that number. Their best single-game EFG was 49.4% in their blowout win in late March. In other words: against the Lakers, OKC ain't depositing the ball in the hole enough, and it's not a fluke. We've got nine games' worth of evidence to tell us that the Thunder can't shoot well enough, for long enough stretches, to prevail against the Lakers.

That's why Brooks has to put T-Sef and Green on the bench. I mean, at one point in Game Five, Green was being guarded by Derek Fisher. That's Laker code for, "Mr. Green, please help yourself to as many shot attempts as you'd like." Harden and Serge Ibaka can at least drain a few buckets. They can unclog the defense so Westbrook and Durant can do their respective things. Maybe it won't be enough to power OKC to the series upset, but if Brooks doesn't try, then he's not coaching to win. Lose big or lose narrowly: history will only remember that you lost.

Both Thunder fans and Thunder players must realize that they're living on a knife's edge. They'll have noise and energy on their side at tip-off, but I wonder whether a fast Laker start will induce a certain fatalism, a sense of "Hey, we gave it a good shot, and we'll try again next year." If the Lakers drop the hammer early, they may find that the Thunder, for all their great strides this year, are ready to call it a season.

Here are the composite series stats, for those who are interested.











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