May 9th, 2014
Playing with Physicality

LOS ANGELES – Especially on the road, the Thunder tries to sharpen its focus to only things it can control.

Energy, effort, intensity and focus are all qualities that can be transferred into any building in the NBA, including the Staples Center tonight as Head Coach Scott Brooks’ Thunder squad takes on the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals. The veteran core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison have been together for years now, so through their leadership, they help the team understand exactly what the mindset should be heading into battles like tonight’s. With the series tied 1-1, the Thunder has only one goal in mind – try to get another win tonight.

“We’re worried about us,” Durant said. “The environment and where we’re playing doesn’t matter. We’re going to continue to be who we are and not let it affect us. We’re going to go through tough stretches and adversity. Teams are going to make runs on us, but we’re always going to stick together.”

“We’re still locked in,” Perkins said. “We haven’t done anything. We have to take our home court advantage back. We’re taking this game very seriously. It’s important. We have to make sure we don’t come into the game happy and see what they do. We have to attack first on both ends.”

The aggressiveness needs to be there for the Thunder from the very opening possession like it was in Game 2, and that starts on defense. In Game 2, Ibaka, Perkins, Collison and Steven Adams were mostly able to do a nice job of doing their work early in possessions. By getting back on defense quickly, the quartet of Thunder bigs gives themselves a chance to direct Clippers bigs like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan away from the rim. Continuing to force the potent frontcourt tandem into shots away from the rim will be paramount to success, especially on the Clippers’ home floor.

“We feel like if they can’t use their athleticism, it’s to our advantage,” Perkins explained. “We try to put a body on them and make them take tough, contested two’s.”

On the offensive end, the Thunder’s physicality is equally as important. In Game 2, Durant and Westbrook repeatedly took the ball down to the block against smaller defenders, posting up to create high percentage looks for themselves or others. When Clippers defenders come over from the help side, it opens up relocations by shooters on the perimeter and dives to the rim by big men and guards alike. By inverting the offense and getting the team’s two dynamic playmakers the ball in the post, it opens up more avenues for others to get involved in the scoring.

“Russ and KD have been doing a great job of making other guys better,” Perkins said. “When guys come to double, they’re finding the open guy.”

If the Thunder can continue to play with the appropriate level of toughness on both ends of the floor, it will give itself a chance to go up 2-1 in the series. Controlling the number of shots in the paint the Clippers get and continuing to dominate the rebounding battle will be huge keys for the Thunder heading into Game 3. The Clippers will definitely bring the fight to the Thunder as well, as both teams want to wrestle away control of the series from the other. All said, it should be a tilt where every single possession is critical.

“I expect a very physical game,” Brooks said. “We know both teams are very good teams. Both teams have very good offense and defense is good. It’s going to be a challenge for both teams tonight.”