May 7th, 2014
Playing with Force on Both Ends

There’s no script to how the Thunder’s playoff run with twist and turn, but Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team knows that in order to keep it moving, it has to take matters into its own hands.

In Game 1 of Round 2 against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Thunder didn’t dictate where the Clippers offense would go or play with enough force on the offensive end to come away with a victory. After a day of practice, a celebration of Kevin Durant’s MVP award and Wednesday morning’s shootaround, the Thunder has a better sense of what it will need to do in Game 2 to be more successful. Playing loose, freely and with intense focus will be crucial, particularly on the defensive end.

The Clippers have shooters on the perimeter, big men in the paint who attack the rim relentlessly and a point guard who can dictate the tempo. It will be of the utmost importance that leaders like Durant and Russell Westbrook set the defensive tone for how the entire squad will play tonight.

“We have to adjust our mindset and switch gears to playing a team that can score on the perimeter really well,” Durant said. “We have to be focused and ready on the perimeter as individual defenders for all those guys.”

“We just have to enjoy playing basketball and go out there and embrace this moment,” Durant said. “We have to go out there and fight until the end. That’s what we want to do tonight.”

On the offensive end, the Thunder has more room to breathe than it did during its first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, but the team still has to trust in the offensive system of sharing the ball and floor spacing that has been successful all season. Durant and Westbrook will be charged with a lot of the ball handling responsibilities, along with Reggie Jackson, but that trio will need to involve everyone on the floor in order to build a rhythm.

Whether Westbrook is posting up, attacking in the pick-and-roll or attacking the rim, he’ll need to be in control and to limit turnovers.

“I’m just trying find my reads, find my openings, my attack points and where I can be aggressive,” Westbrook explained.

While Durant must be cognizant of his cuts, how he comes off screens and maintaining ball control as well. If the Thunder can limit turnovers, it will give itself a better chance to get back and set up its half-court defense. Regardless of whether shots are falling, the Thunder hopes to maintain its same level of defensive communication on every possession.

“We try not to let our offense dictate our defense, because we’ll have tough stretches where we’re not making shots,” Durant said. “But our defense has to be on point. We learned a valuable lesson last game.”

Most of all, the Thunder understands that in this battle of two top-level Western Conference foes, it will come down to whichever team gets the most uncontested shots that will end up having the best chance to win. Impacting the ball at the top of the key on defense, and getting into the lane on offense will be crucial to success. If Durant, Westbrook and Jackson can attack the rim, it will open up space on the floor for Thunder shooters.

Conversely, if the Thunder can stop dribble penetration, it will cut down on the Clippers’ options in the pick-and-roll. Lobs to the rim and kick-outs to shooters will be more difficult to come back, thus limiting easy looks for Los Angeles, and hopefully resulting in rebounds and run outs for the Thunder.

“We have to be aggressive and make sure we make the second and third efforts against these guys,” Durant said.

“We just want to play Thunder defense, how we’ve been playing defense all season to get us wins,” Westbrook said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”