April 20th, 2014
Backing Up a Good Performance with Another

The electricity in Chesapeake Energy Arena was at its highest levels, but the Thunder’s hands and minds were as steady as can be.

In Saturday night’s 100-86 Game 1 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 1 of the Playoffs, the Thunder took control immediately with an 8-0 run that turned into a 14-2 advantage four minutes into the game. The precision, accuracy and commitment to detail that the Thunder showed in those opening minutes set the tone for the entire first half, and it is an attitude that Head Coach Scott Brooks wants to see for 48 minutes on Monday night. The Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd propelled them to the hot start, then rallied the Thunder when it faced a tough stretch in the third quarter.

“The building was live,” Brooks said. “The atmosphere was outstanding. The energy in the building really helped our guys lock in from that opening tap.”

“We were able to maintain our composure,” Brooks said. “You have to be able to handle all situations like being up, being down or close. Either way, you have to stay together.”

The Thunder’s Game 1 lead dropped from 25 to two early in the fourth quarter, then jumped back up to as many as 15 before the final buzzer sounded. Playoff games are singular and unique in nature, meaning that there’s no predicting exactly how the ebbs and flows are going to take out. Each game in itself is a marathon that tests a teams will, stability, poise and composure. The key for the Thunder, as veteran guard Derek Fisher explained, is to always be thinking about possession basketball – that each trip up court on both ends is vital to the final outcome of the game.

“There is no script or pre-ordained way that things are going to happen,” Fisher said. “You have to just figure it out as it goes. You might be up ten, down ten, up 20, you might be down 20. You have to figure out a way to keep playing, keep plugging, fight through that adversity and win the game.”

As a result, the Thunder knows to look deepest at the third quarter the Grizzlies put together, when they scored 31 points and held the Thunder to just 13, as opposed to the first half when Brooks’ squad held Memphis to an all-time Thunder opponent playoff low 34 points and 25 percent shooting.

Despite the familiarity between both sides, Game 1 was something of a feel-out game for both sides, and now with a day in between, the Thunder and Grizzlies can ready themselves for another intense, yet inevitably different type of battle on Monday.

“In my experience, Game 2 is always dramatically different from Game 1,” Fisher said. “The team that lost the game obviously is going to come back with a renewed effort, focus and with an intensity level really high. They don’t want to go down 0-2. That’s a given.”

“So the question goes to the team that won the game,” Fisher continued. “What type of focus and mindset and concentration do we as a team bring to the game? That’s where the difference will lie. Hopefully we can prepare ourselves with the type of effort that it takes to win.”

With Fisher’s words of wisdom, and 18 years of experience, in mind, the Thunder approaches Monday night’s tilt with an equal reverence as it did on Saturday. In order to once again set the tone, Thunder leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will charge themselves and their teammates to play with physical and mental toughness from the opening tip.

By playing with pace on offense, communicating on defense and executing sharply to fit the overall gameplan, the Thunder can give itself a chance to take a second game in the series before heading to Memphis.

“They’re a physical team,” Westbrook said. “They do a great job of being physical. It’s very important for us to come out and hit first. Even if we don’t make shots, it’s important for us to come out and defend.”