Defensive Execution Thunder Trademark

The Thunder did it at a high level on Friday night against the Orlando Magic, just as they’ve done on numerous occasions this season.

Getting defensive stops, particularly late in games with tight scores is essential to an NBA’s teams ability to grind out victories. That’s exactly what Head Coach Scott Brooks’ Thunder squad tries to do each night it steps on the floor through communicating with one another, trusting in the defensive system and taking pride in staying in front of their man. As a result, Brooks and his staff feel strongly that the five men they put on the floor in crunch time can lock in and get results.

“Extremely confident,” Brooks said. “We take a lot of pride in getting stops when the time is there… We have a lot of trust in our defense. There is a lot of work that has been put in. A lot of time is spent on the defensive end of the floor since we’ve been together. Our guys think defense. They know the recipe to our success is defending.”

Serge Ibaka had five blocks on Friday night and was one of the critical cogs in the Thunder’s lockdown defensive effort that held Orlando to just 89 points on the night and ended the game on an 8-1 run. The Thunder always looks forward and assesses what it can improve upon with each game. That was no different today as the team spent some time getting in hard work at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center in preparation for its game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night.

“It’s a long season but there are ups and downs, but we always try to be a defensive team and be ready to play,” Ibaka said. “That’s what we did last night. Tomorrow it will be a tough game too. It’s good for us to see what we can do and what we can do to get better.”

Spending nearly an hour after practice had ended, Ibaka diligently worked with assistant coach Mark Bryant on making contested shots from all over the floor. The Congolese forward’s offensive development has been a major boost to the Thunder’s punch this season, and it will be needed on Sunday night. His defensive effort, along with his teammates’, will also be important as the team deals with the tandem of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, in addition to the entire Blazers starting five.

“They start five guys that play a lot of minutes and they score a lot of their points,” Brooks said. “You have to be on defensively. All five guys are going to have to do their job tomorrow night. They’re playing well. They’re fighting for a playoff spot. They’re right there.”

At 33-36 the Blazers are on the cusp of a playoff berth and have been playing solid basketball of late. Portland takes and makes a lot of three-point shots, ranking in the top five in both categories while also featuring a versatile attack where five players average 13-or-more points per game. The Thunder will have to defend the perimeter and also help one another in weak-side rotations to get repeated stops throughout the night.

All of these efforts, whether it be against Orlando on Friday or on Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, help the Thunder continue to develop and grow as the season reaches its final stages. With 12 regular season games remaining, the Thunder is trying to improve multiple aspects of its game to be in the best possible form come April.

“It’s important right now to get your mind ready for the playoffs because the season is almost done,” Ibaka said. “This right now is the tough moment when a lot of people lose their minds and their focus. For us it’s very important for us to stay focused because we have big moments, and soon they’re coming.”