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Thunder Ready for Challenges Ahead in Game 5

The Thunder have evened their Western Conference Finals series against the Spurs, and are ready to go to San Antonio.

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Points are really just numbers on a scoreboard if they don’t amount to a win.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook know combining for 71 in one night won’t capture a championship. It’s how they perform in the next game that matters.

“I think we have another level we can go to,” Durant said.

On Tuesday, Westbrook dropped 40 points and Durant scored 31 in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 105-92 win over the San Antonio Spurs to even the Western Conference Semifinals, 2-2. They traveled to Texas to prepare for Game 5 on Thursday, already leaving their star-studded performance in the past.

“We’re just trying to look forward, to be honest,” Durant said. “We know how tough it is to go in there and get a W, but we’re excited for this opportunity. Coming back home, we did what we were supposed to do (win Games 3 and 4). We’ve got to go on the road and handle our business. So of course we feel a little better, but we don’t feel satisfied at all coming back to San Antonio. We’re looking forward to playing.”

The Thunder shifted the momentum of an 0-2 deficit to a tied battle. Neither team has won on the road in this series, and the Thunder will have to attack if they want to overcome the Spurs’ homecourt advantage. The Spurs have not lost at the AT&T Center since April 23, Game 2 of the first round against the Dallas Mavericks.

“We played well at home,” said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. “We knew that we had to do that in order to win Game 3 and Game 4. But we have to be able to take it on the road with us. … It’s one thing about our group, we’re never satisfied.

“We know what they do, and they beat us pretty bad the first two games but we know … we have to play with that maximum effort every time down the court.”

The Thunder are ready to give that effort, even if it means rarely stepping off the court. In Game 4 Westbrook clocked 45 minutes, Durant played 41, yet the 25-year-olds aren’t worried about that affecting their upcoming performances.

The Spurs, in contrast, kept every player to 30 minutes or less. Head coach Gregg Popovich said he “didn’t see any sense” in bringing his starters back in when they cut the Thunder’s lead to 12; he was thinking ahead to Thursday’s game.

“We’ve got to win the game, regardless of who they have on the floor, regardless of if they’re worried about the next game,” said Westbrook. “We’re young. We’re going to recover, take care of our body and be ready to play.”

Enhancing the offensive dominance of Durant and Westbrook is the return of Serge Ibaka, who was previously expected to miss the remainder of the postseason with a left calf strain suffered during the Western Conference Semifinals. Instead, he came back for Game 3 and has posed problems for the Spurs, as he has done all season.

The Thunder have defeated the Spurs seven straight games with Ibaka in the lineup. This time, they head into San Antonio with him on the court.

“It’s a great challenge, and they’re playing well against us,” Tony Parker said. “We just have to play better, and there’s no excuse. We’re a no‑excuse team. We just have to go out there and play better. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s the Western Conference Finals, we’re playing a great team and going back home; we just have to find a way to win.”

The 71 points are in the books. So are each team’s previous victories. The Spurs and Thunder both need two more wins, and they are ready for a battle.

“We know what we have to do,” said Durant. “We know that we can’t go in there and play like we played before, which was too cool, and playing it too cool gets you beat every time. So we have to be engaged and be ready for a dog fight. That’s how it’s going to be from the beginning, so we’re excited for a great opportunity.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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