GAME 5 PREVIEW

mailbag@thunder-nba.com
May 12th, 2014
Turning the Page to Game 5

For 11 straight quarters of basketball, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team played Thunder Basketball, that brand of high level defense matched with quick, free flowing offense that gets everyone involved.

That execution and precision on both ends of the floor led to wins in Games 2 and 3 against the Los Angeles Clippers in this Western Conference Semifinals matchup, but that final missing quarter, the fourth and final period of Game 4, was enough to create a Thunder loss in Game 4. Despite playing with toughness, intensity and focus from the opening tip, when the Thunder built a 22-point lead, Brooks’ club didn’t quite have enough to stave off a desperate Clippers squad.

“We had a lot of good moments in that game,” Brooks said. “We did a lot of things well to get us in that position. We missed an opportunity to close that game out. It’s something that we have to learn from and move on. The NBA is a tough league. If you worry about the last play, the next play, you’re not going to have a chance.”

“The starters did an unbelievable job of getting us off to a great start and setting the tempo,” forward Caron Butler explained. “That second group, we can’t have any drop offs. We just have to rebound the ball, continue to protect the paint and be on a string.”

As Caron Butler explained, Game 4 came down to a lack of firm play on the defensive end of the floor, but the team knows it can right the ship heading into Game 5 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Through three quarters, the Thunder had held the Clippers to 35.2 percent shooting, but in the final period, the Clippers got free in the lane, scored at the rim and cleaned up the offensive glass.

For the first time in 11 Playoff games this season, the Thunder was out-rebounded. Boxing out and snaring defensive rebounds has been a part of the Thunder’s philosophy since training camp, so Brooks wants his squad to get back to its roots, starting with keeping the ball in front in the pick-and-roll and communicating throughout the defensive play.

“Defense, how we play, is a five-man mentality,” Brooks said. “It’s not one guy or two guys. All five guys have to be engaged.”

“Possession by possession, mental toughness has to be displayed each time down the court,” Brooks continued. “We have to make sure we do that for 48 minutes.”

Offensively, the Thunder knows its execution, which was nearly perfect in the opening minutes when the team made its first seven field goal attempts, could be better than it was in the closing minutes. Part of the Thunder’s typical gameplan is to keep the floor balanced, give Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook room to operate and create simple passing lanes to make decisions by ball handlers obvious.

Even when opponents throw out unorthodox defenses, the Thunder must rely on the habits it built throughout the year and continue to get proper spacing, player movement and ball movement to put pressure on the Clippers defense.

“Spacing is key, not second guessing the pass or where the double team is coming from, and just having trust,” Butler said. “Trust is key. Basketball is an easy game, and sometimes players make it complicated. Just trust in the pass, believe in it and when they make mistakes, capitalize on that opportunity.

Despite the Game 4 loss, the Thunder accomplished what it wanted to in Los Angeles by regaining home court advantage in the series. Playing at Chesapeake Energy Arena doesn’t guarantee anything, but the Thunder is glad to know that in what is now a best-of-three series, that it has two games at home.

One of the most crucial aspects of the Thunder as a team and an organization has been its continuity and experience, even with a young core. As a result of many playoff battles together, the Thunder has developed a short memory, and an internal drive to perform better each night. With that said, the Thunder has already turned the page from its trip to Los Angeles, and spent Monday’s practice to gear up for a pivotal Game 5 on Tuesday night.

“We’re ready to lace it back up tomorrow, come out with a lot of energy, excitement and enthusiasm for each other,” Brooks said. “I expect the guys to come back and play a good basketball game for 48 minutes.”

“We still have a great opportunity,” Brooks explained. “We’re at home and the series is tied. We knew going into the series that they’re a very good basketball team just like us. We know it’s going to be very competitive. Both teams are very good, it’s evenly matched and there’s a reason why it is 2-2. It’s back to our home floor, where we feel very confident.”