OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—One dominating performance by the defending NBA champions wasn’t enough to rattle Scott Brooks and his young Oklahoma City Thunder.
After appearing vulnerable during the first four games of their playoff series, the Los Angeles Lakers regained control with a blowout victory in Game 5 that gave them a 3-2 series lead and chased away talk they were a slow, aging bunch.
For an Oklahoma City roster made up almost entirely of players who’ve never experienced the postseason before, the threat of elimination is the latest test of the resiliency they have shown all season.
“We’re not down,” Brooks said Thursday. “Everybody’s not wearing a black uniform.”
Despite the 111-87 loss on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, Brooks and his players have reason for optimism. The Thunder won both of their home games in the series, including their own blowout victory in Game 4. They will return to the Ford Center on Friday night for a chance to force a decisive final game in Los Angeles on Sunday.
“I think everybody knows what’s at stake, and we’ll come out and we’ll play much better,” said Nick Collison(notes), one of only three players in the Thunder’s regular rotation who’s been in the playoffs before. “We realize that the little things that we’ve done to get us to this point is what we need to do to have a chance against them.”
Brooks has had two full days to come up with a response to the Lakers’ decision to use Kobe Bryant(notes) to defend point guard Russell Westbrook(notes) but he said Thursday he’s not ready to reveal it. The move seemed like genius in Game 5, with Westbrook committing eight turnovers as Oklahoma City’s offense faltered.
“It’s just something that we’re going to have to show on the court,” Brooks said. “We have some things in mind that we have to do a better job of, but Russell has to stay with his game.
“It can never be Russell versus Kobe. If that’s the case, we’re going to be in trouble.”
While looking back at film of the game, Brooks said he realized that Bryant “guarded him but really didn’t guard him,” sagging off while tempting Westbrook to settle for jump shots instead of attacking the basket.
Westbrook didn’t handle it well the first time around but said he’s undaunted by the prospect of facing that type of defense again.
“It’s easier for me that way,” Westbrook said. “I can see what’s going on, make good passes to my teammates, find open guys and also look for my shot as well.”
Westbrook said he’s beyond the point in his career where he would be rattled by the prospect of going head-to-head against an NBA superstar. While he might have been had those moments last season as a rookie, Westbrook believes that he now plays no differently against Bryant or LeBron James(notes) than he would against Mike Conley(notes) or Nate Robinson(notes).
“I don’t think he’s like the best defender in the NBA to where I’m like, ‘OK, Kobe’s guarding me now,’ and I tighten up,” Westbrook said.
The key to the Lakers finding success on defense has been limiting Oklahoma City’s transition game, and coach Phil Jackson said that even has an impact on whether Bryant can matchup against Westbrook.
“If it’s a game where we’re not making shots, and we have to get back to defense from missed shots, that changes everything up,” Jackson said. “Kobe’s not going to have Westbrook on him, so obviously he’s got to find the cross-match and to find Westbrook in that transition is different.”
Los Angeles will be trying to close out its third straight playoff series on the road, after clinching the Western Conference finals in Denver and winning the NBA title in Orlando last season.
“It’s all about emotion and adrenaline and doing everything you can to make sure you don’t get off to a bad start,” point guard Derek Fisher(notes) said. “So for us, it will be a matter of standing up in the face of that surge that’s going to come at the beginning of the game. You can expect it, there’s no doubt about it. And it’s just a matter of how prepared we are to stand up in it, face it, deal with it, and then pace the game in the way that works best for us.
“But it will be a night full of emotion, and we’ll have to be the team that keeps our emotions and our poise in check the most.”
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in El Segundo, Calif., and Associated Press Writer Murray Evans in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.