May 10th, 2014
Next Play, Next Game Mentality

LOS ANGELES – Not even a full 12 hours after its Game 3 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Thunder was already back to work to try to get ready for Game 4.

In a small, private gym in Los Angeles, Head Coach Scott Brooks assembled his team on Saturday afternoon for a film session and practice ahead of Sunday afternoon’s 2:30 p.m. CDT tip off at the Staples Center. Despite winning 118-112 on Friday night to take a 2-1 series lead in its Western Conference Semifinals matchup against the Clippers, the Thunder knows that it can’t rest for even a second.

Sunday’s game will be one of the toughest of the year for the Thunder, as the Clippers will surely be fighting with all they have to even up the series. By maintaining poise like it did on Friday night, the Thunder can give itself a chance on Sunday to take control of the series with another win. Getting back to film and walking through some scenarios is the best way the Thunder knows to stay sharp.

“We understand the situation,” Brooks explained. “Last night we kept our composure throughout that game. There were spots of the game where it was pretty tough on us. Our guys did a good job of sticking together and understanding it’s the next play mentality.”

“We have areas where we have to get better,” Brooks said. “We’re happy with the win but there were so many spots in that game where we could have executed better. We’re going to concentrate that today.”

Staying focused on the task at hand and executing on both ends of the floor will be crucial in Game 4, just as it was in Game 3. One interesting wrinkle the Thunder capitalized on during crunch time on Friday was staying with a smaller lineup featuring Kevin Durant at the power forward position, alongside Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler. The latter pair of reserves made their impact felt on the scoreboard, pitching in a combined 28 points.

What was most intriguing, however, was Durant’s ability to keep DeAndre Jordan from getting loose around the basket on the defensive end. Durant stayed between Jordan and the basket on nearly every possession and drew a huge foul call by boxing out the much bigger Jordan on a late defensive rebounding chance. Veteran center Kendrick Perkins, who is tasked with dealing with Jordan for most of the game, said he was impressed by how the Thunder closed out Game 3.

“It worked,” Perkins said. “The small lineup was big for us yesterday. It gave them a different work. (Butler) and Reggie came in and hit some shots.”

“(Durant) did a great job of knowing DeAndre’s tendencies, listening to film, knowing where (Jordan) was going to be and what he wanted to do and knowing the play calls. He was very vocal in the back, anchoring the defense. Kevin is remarkable.”

The Thunder did its work early on Friday night, dominating the glass for the third straight game in this series, and continuing its run of out-rebounding its opponent in every single game so far in the postseason. Ibaka and Perkins must continue what they’ve done moving forward in boxing out on the defensive glass, and the Thunder wants to keep sending their guards like Westbrook and Jackson to clean up the glass.

“Perk and I have been doing a better job of playing with each other,” Ibaka said. “Russ has been doing a great job of going to the offensive glass and helping us on defense. All we can do is stay focused on boxing out and Russ, Kevin and Thabo can come in and get the rebounds.”

When the Thunder corrals those defensive rebounds, it gives itself a chance to get out into transition and get high percentage shot opportunities. Durant and Westbrook have been catalysts for that throughout this series, but the Thunder also got a boost from Jackson in Game 3.

Jackson’s decisiveness and firm ball handling helped fuel the Thunder’s second unit and also ensured that he was able to keep the scoreboard moving. Jackson’s ability to get to the rim against the Clippers’ smaller second unit will be a crucial aspect in this series.

“I liked his aggressive play last night,” Brooks said. “He was attacking with one good move. That’s what you have to do…Reggie did a good job of handling the pressure then going. He’s hard to stay in front of him when he has that mentality.”