May 15th, 2014
Staying Together for 48 Minutes

LOS ANGELES – Head Coach Scott Brooks has been in countless in-game team huddles in his lifetime. In Game 5, the Thunder’s demeanor and focus during timeouts was some of the best he’s ever seen, and that togetherness and commitment led to a remarkable come-from-behind victory.

In Game 6 on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Thunder will need every ounce of strength, determination and collective will that it has in order to try to close out this Western Conference Semifinals series. It’s a long 48 minutes, and even when the outcome seems secure, both teams realize that it’s never over until that final buzzer sounds. In order to be the better team for one more night in this series, the Thunder has to be calm and precise.

“We have to have a very even-keeled approach to the game,” Brooks said. “It’s an emotional game. It’s a very competitive game. There are ten of the greatest athletes, competing against each other. You have to be able to remain calm in the moments.”

“Patience is key,” center Kendrick Perkins said.

Defensively, the Thunder has tried to play solid and keep themselves between their opponents and the rim all series. Forcing the Clippers to take long two pointers and contested shots has been crucial in keeping the potent Los Angeles offense in check. The Thunder can reach an extra gear, however, when its defense can force turnovers the way it did in Game 5. By putting the Clippers in difficult situations, the Thunder forced 17 turnovers that led to 23 points, a huge boost for the offense that was able to score 19 fast break points.

“We did get our hands on the basketball, we got some deflections, steals and opportunities to score in transition,” Brooks explained. “Those are the keys to our game. We want to get back and continue to focus on what we feel is important, which is playing defense with hands, activity and making them tough shots. Offensively we want to continue to move bodies, move the ball and look for open shots.”

Every player has their fingerprints on the success of the team as a whole, from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to rookies like Steven Adams. While the Thunder’s veterans have a great sense of their role and how they can impact a playoff game, it is a fascinating sight to watch younger players like Adams and Reggie Jackson find their niche on the court within the flow of each game.

Every player, and particularly role players, have the chance to see how the game is unfolding and then attack the aspects of the matchup that are necessary for success. In Game 5, Jackson recognized that his rebounding could really impact the game, while Adams saw openings at the dunker spot to get easy scoring opportunities. As players develop, their ability to impact the game on multiple levels expands as well.

“As every player moves in their developmental stage you can throw more to him and he’s able to internalize it,” Brooks said.

An example of that development can even be seen in the NBA’s MVP, Durant. His dynamic scoring ability is unparalleled in the league, but regardless of whether shots are falling, Durant tries to find other ways to help his team win. The margins are where playoff games and series are won, and Durant realizes that amongst many other facets of the game, that his rebounding is crucial to success.

So far in the playoffs, Durant is averaging a team-high 9.0 rebounds per game, and has recorded five double-doubles. Thanks to Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams, who are doing the dirty work of boxing out and being physical, Durant has used his length and athleticism to swoop in and corral rebounds, kickstarting the Thunder’s transition offense.

“I’m just helping the bigs,” Durant explained. “It makes it a little easier to come down when they’re doing all the work. I just try to help out as much as possible and get in there and mix it up. It provides better offense for us as well pushing it up the floor.

Durant and his teammates know that without one another, both individual and collective success isn’t possible. Durant and Westbrook may be averaging a combined 58.1 points per game in these playoffs, but they’re also averaging a combined 12.4 assists per game. Winning in the playoffs requires a full team effort and an unwavering spirit. In order to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the third time in four years, the Thunder will need that mentality for all four quarters tonight.

“Our mindset has to be one of toughness and togetherness,” Brooks said. “We’re going in there with the mindset that we’re going to give everything that we have. We’re going to do it for 48 minutes. It has to be possession by possession of great effort.”