May 6th, 2014
Bouncing Back Defensively

Monday night, the Thunder’s defensive effort didn’t look the way it is accustomed to. On nights like that, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team turns to its veteran leaders for guidance.

Rookie center Steven Adams wasn’t completely sure how to respond after the Thunder’s Game 1 122-105 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers, but when he saw Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins’ stoic, strong approach to analyzing what went wrong and what needs to be done in Game 2. By being able to turn the page and focus only on what is still in its control, the Thunder has the chance to find solutions and perform at a higher level.

“They were really looking forward to moving on, analyzing the whole game on what was wrong,” Adams explained. “They were already trying to look at the video and what went wrong.”

The majority of the Thunder’s game plan for a better result in Wednesday’s Game 2 revolves around its work on the defensive end. Effort, energy, physicality and intensity are all a part of it, but also executing on the tactical parts of the game to prevent the Clippers from getting easy shots. In Game 1, the Clippers shot 15-for-29 from the three-point line, so it will be imperative that Brooks’ club gets out to the perimeter with strong closeouts in order to force the Clippers into contested shots.

“We have to close out all the way to all their shooters,” Brooks said. “We have to be able to be locked in with all five guys. They have some skilled basketball players on the floor. If you make a mistake and you have a lackadaisical moment, you can’t get away with that with this team.”

“We have to play much better,” Brooks said. “There’s no question about that. There are some tangible things that we have to get better at. We have to do a better job of stopping the basketball. We have to do a better job of closing out on their three-point shooters. I have confidence in our guys that they will do better tomorrow night.”

Part of the Thunder’s ability to prevent the Clippers from getting free reign to take spot up jumpers on Wednesday night will come at the point of attack at the top of the key. The Clippers’ Chris Paul got loose for 32 points and ten assists in Game 1, with much of his work taking place in the pick-and-roll.

While Paul is a challenge to contain, it will be up to Thunder guards like Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson to work with Thunder bigs to push Paul back into the backcourt instead of allowing him around screens and into the lane.

“That’s our main thing, to keep him out of the paint,” Westbrook said. “We just have to do a better job of putting pressure on him and making his passes tougher.”

All of that defensive strategy lines up with the Thunder’s core values on that side of the ball to begin with. As the veterans and Brooks have helped the team understand, Wednesday’s matchup will be more about the Thunder’s ability to execute its own game plan at its highest possible level.

If the Thunder can get high quality shots on offense and limit turnovers, it will prevent the Clippers from getting easy transition opportunities. Once the Thunder’s half-court defense is set, it can get to work on handling the Clippers and forcing them into tough shots.

“It’s mainly what we’re going to do, that’s what we went over,” Adams said. “They’re going to play how they’re going to prepare. We have to make sure that we’re better prepared and more engaged than we were in Game 1.”