x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Thunder outlook not so cloudy

Slumbering and stumbling in the opening games of their semi-final series against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Oklahoma City Thunder have come roaring back to take a 3-2 advantage.

Oklahoma City Thunder head into Game 6 at Memphis tonight holding the series lead for the first time in their Western Conference semi-final against the Grizzlies.

After squandering a 16-point lead in the second half and losing Game 3 in overtime, the Thunder blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before winning Game 4 in triple overtime on Monday night.

But Game 5 on Wednesday night was all over well before the final buzzer as Thunder won 99-72. They were so far ahead that Kevin Durant and fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook did not play in the fourth quarter, and by the end, Durant was wearing one of the same white Thunder T-shirts as the sell-out crowd and was standing on the sidelines directing the reserves.

"Going through that kind of loss [in Game 3] moulds our character, I think, and brings us closer together," Durant, who scored 29 points, said.

"Losing Game 3 the way we did and winning Game 4 the way we did, it kind of showed what type of team we are, what type of courage and heart we have."

Westbrook, who scored 11 points in 25 minutes - half his playing time from the previous game, said "I think our confidence is at a solid level.

"We know that it's going to be loud in there [tonight] and going to be tough in a hostile environment. We've just got to go in there and play our game, defensively. If we go in with a positive mindset, I think we'll be all right."

The Grizzlies were a ragged bunch throughout Game 4 and can only hope to get re-energised by returning to the FedEx Forum with their season on the line.

Marc Gasol had 16 points to lead Memphis, who matched their lowest point total from the regular season and played like they were still drained from an emotional loss in their own building that knocked them out of control in the series.

"Not only were we physically down, we were probably down a little bit mentally, but I'm not making excuses for our group," Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies coach, said.

"It's always better for the home team in these situations, and the team that won the game. I don't think we'll have a problem getting up for this one."

Over in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat will next play the winner of the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks series. The Bulls led that series 3-2 going into last night's Game 6. It marks the first time the Heat have reached the NBA semi-finals since they won the league championship five years ago. Miami advanced to the semi-finals on Wednesday, defeating the Boston Celtics, 97-87, with the help of some late baskets from LeBron James and a team-high 34 points by Dwyane Wade.

Wade also finished with 10 rebounds and five assists, James had 33 points, and Chris Bosh added 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Heat won the series 4-1.

"You can never take your foot off gas because they [the Celtics] make you fight for everything," James said.

"They are the reason why all three of us came together, that blueprint they had. They are a great team."

James and Bosh are in their first season with the Heat. After a slow start, the move to join Wade in Florida seems to be working.

James silenced critics who said he could not play well late in big games by scoring the final 10 points of the fourth quarter.

"I never even got all that with [what] everybody was saying about me in late-game situations," James said. "I know what I work hard for, and that's to be put in those positions.

"My coaching staff gave me a lot of confidence. Teammates kept giving me confidence, and I'm happy to bring it home."

Boston lost the game but got some good news as Doc Rivers, their coach, said he would like to return for another season.

"I'm a Celtic," Rivers said. "And I love our guys. I want to win again here. I'm competitive, I have a competitive group. So we'll see. That's where I'm at today. Tomorrow I may change my mind."