Let us look forward. Looking back just stirs bad memories, thoughts of disastrous starts, terrifying endings, and a defeated Kevin Durant forgetting to latch up his backpack. The reality now is, the Thunder cannot win three games in a row. But they can win one game. They can win tonight's game.
1. The formula for Game Five.
This one is easy - it is exactly the same as the formula for Game Four.
Lost amidst the fourth quarter flame-out is the fact that the Thunder outplayed the Mavericks through 3.5 quarters. It is also important to note that the Mavericks were not playing badly through those 3.5 quarters, either. In fact, their offense was playing quite well. Dirk Nowitzki had regained his Game One form, dropping 22 points and completely rebuilding his game in the high post, rather than in his preferred baseline ISO position (and as an aside, that was pretty darned impressive adjustment).
And what of that dastardly, ever-lurking 4th quarter? Rest assured, it will come once more, after about 36 minutes of game play. What then? Remember, despite all the Thunder's shortcomings this season in those insidious five minutes, OKC does have a solution that has worked.
The solution: get to the free throw line. The Thunder will continue to struggle with their offense in the 4th quarter; that reality will not change. However, what they can do, and what they did not do in Game Four, is work their way to the free throw line. The team weathered storms this season by forcing themselves to the charity stripe, a place where they thrived all season.
2. Thunder temperament.
The Thunder started out Game Three at a frenetic pace, and they lost their focus early, leading to their downfall. The Thunder started out Game Four energetic and focused, but the lighter fluid on which their energy burned, burned away and they hit an emotional flat-line in the 2nd quarter. In Game Six of last series, the Thunder were emotionally vacant, as if they expected the Grizzlies to lay down for them, and were soundly beaten.
I expect the Thunder to be emotional tonight, but I think the Thunder need to take the lead from their counterparts and seek to play at an even-keel. This is not college basketball - OKC cannot expect that as their emotional charge builds that the Mavericks' energy will wane. Dallas knows that a Red Bull 1st quarter cannot be sustained through 48 minutes, and when the Thunder come off of their emotional peak, Dallas will be ready to counter-attack.
Instead, I hope for the Thunder to come out of the gates at an emotional even-keel; not too high, and not too low. I hope that they don't over-celebrate when they burst to an early six point lead, and I hope that they don't start to look at the floor when Dallas counters with a 12-0 run. The game is long and has many twists and turns. The Thunder need to keep themselves emotionally in it for the duration so that when the pressure builds, they are not already emotionally drained.
3. Live in the moment.
First, let me quote Uncle Screwtape:
Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity. It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear.
Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time-for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays...Nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.
...We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present. - The Screwtape Letters
What is the point? The point is this - the two biggest psychological dangers that are beset before the Thunder players tonight are thoughts of both the past and of the future, and those two places are a direct threat to what really matters, which is the present moment.
Past - The danger of thinking about the past too much is that this is where Games Three and Four dwell, and if the Thunder are to succeed tonight, the memory of those two games must be locked away in Gringotts. The Thunder cannot change the past. They cannot change the poor starts and collapses, and tonight's game is not about rectifying those mistakes. Tonight's game is about forgetting the past and forging a new path, one that has a next step.
Future - The danger of thinking about the future is that it is wrapped up in unrealities. If the Thunder think too far ahead to a possible Game Six, they will ignore the responsibilities of tonight's game. If they think of reversing the odds of winning the series (4%) they will not be focused on all the little things that are necessary. If they start to think about sitting in the locker room after a big win that has not yet happened, they will forget to play the final five minutes once again. Most importantly, if the Thunder start to think of sitting at home to watch the finals, then they will play as if they will be. The Thunder cannot live in a world that has not yet taken shape.
The Present - This is the place where the Thunder need to be. It is the only place where reality is unfolding real-time, so that they can rely on their instincts, talent, and most importantly, each other. It is the only place where everything is in focus. Game Five is the only thing that matters now.