Thunder Thrilled for Playoffs to Begin
Six months of battling together has one has given the Thunder a body of work to rely upon as the “second season” begins.
From its trip overseas to Istanbul and Manchester all the way to its season finale on Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder has placed value on every single day as an opportunity to improve. There have been adverse situations, difficult times and moments that tested the Thunder’s will, but throughout the season, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club has stuck together and found a way to step in and compete each and every night. With the 82-game schedule concluded, the Thunder stands as the second seed in the Western Conference, with the second best record in the NBA.
“Every team goes through a long NBA season to get ready for this part of the year,” Brooks said. “Our guys are excited. They’re excited for each other and the opportunity ahead. They know we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
In Round One, the Thunder will face the Memphis Grizzlies. This will be the third time in the past four seasons that the Thunder and Grizzlies will square off in the postseason, with each team taking one series from the other. There is plenty of history between the two squads, and behind leadership from Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison, the Thunder will try to execute to the best of its ability on both ends of the floor. The Thunder will have to play with quickness, precision and force on the offensive end, along with toughness, cohesion and communication on defense.
“It will be a physical matchup against Memphis,” Westbrook said. “They’re a great team. We just have to go in there and play our game.”
“It’s going to be a tough but fun series,” Durant said. “We have a lot of history with these guys. We’re looking forward to getting the opportunity to play for a championship.”
It won’t be just Durant and Westbrook who the Thunder calls upon to contribute in the Playoffs, just like it took a full team effort throughout the past six months. The continually improving and evolving Serge Ibaka has become one of the most dynamic two-way players in the NBA, and backup point guard Reggie Jackson is an integral part of what the Thunder does on both ends of the floor.
Veteran role players like Collison, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher will all be essential during their minutes. Also off the bench, Caron Butler, Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Hasheem Thabeet and Andre Roberson all must be prepared and ready constantly in case their number is called by Brooks. Due to injury and circumstance, the Thunder has seen Jackson, Jones, Adams and Roberson all step into the starting lineup when necessary, without a drop off in the team’s standards for performance, intensity and teamwork.
“Guys had to step up and I think we did a good job of fighting through it all,” Durant said. “That shows the type of organization, the type of coaching staff and team that we have. It’s been a fun season and up and down like any other season. Now that the Playoffs are here, we can all look back at that, learn from it all and hopefully it helps us out in the postseason.”
“We have a good mixture of guys,” Durant explained. “We have good veterans and good youth. We have a veteran coaching staff as well and we’re just trying to put everything together. We’re looking forward to another opportunity to play in the postseason.”
Confident in its group, the Thunder has a roster full of 15 players who are ready to go to battle with its opponent every single night, both mentally and physically. With Game One on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. CT at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder faithful will have the chance to kick-start the Playoffs the right way against Memphis. Players understand the effect the home crowd in Oklahoma City can have on the outcome of a Playoff game, and for a team dedicated to just one goal, winning, that energy holds the highest value.
“You can’t describe (Chesapeake Energy Arena) to anyone,” Butler said. “It’s just different. The energy is different. It’s truly special… You realize that coming in here. Playing here, it’s a special feeling.”
“It’s a new season now,” Westbrook explained. “16 wins, that’s all that matters. What we need to do better is just defend, do a better job of playing together and trying to win games.”