April 22nd, 2014
Playing With Thunder Habits, Intensity

If an NBA season is like a year-long class, then the regular season games are like each lesson and the Playoffs are the final presentation.

Over the course of the year, the Thunder has relied on building its habits, not just for work ethic but for execution on both ends of the floor. With each game, practice and film session that Head Coach Scott Brooks led during the year, the Thunder gained that much more experience and understanding of themselves, a valuable trait for any organization hoping to be self-aware come Playoff time.

Now that the postseason is here, the Thunder, locked in an even 1-1 opening round series with the Memphis Grizzlies, wants to make sure it’s putting the lessons and habits it acquired during the season to good use. Veterans like Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher have helped guide the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook-led bunch all year, and are helping the team stay focused after a tough 111-105 overtime defeat in Game 2 on Monday.

“You don't become a different team all of the sudden in the Playoffs,” Fisher said. “When you get to the Playoffs, you put those on display, the things you've been working on for several months.”

"It's just having a sense of urgency coming out from the jump and playing close attention to detail on what we need to do," Perkins explained. "One thing we're good at is bouncing back. Each individual takes a lot of pride in what we do.”

The Thunder hangs its hat on the defensive end of the floor, where during the regular season it ranked third in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage, and best in the Western Conference. One reason the Thunder has been so effective on defense is its ability to make the 94-foot by 50-foot court shrink and feel much smaller to opponents by using its athleticism, quickness and wingspan.

Against Memphis, it will be essential for the Thunder to stay active, aggressive and focused in preventing Mike Conley and Beno Udrih from turning the corner in the pick-and-roll, along with not allowing Marc Gasol to have breathing room when operating out of the high post at the nail.

"We like to use our length,” Brooks explained. “We have active hands on the defensive end. When we're really good, we're in a stance and using our length. That's an area that we'll continue to focus on and work through as this series goes on.

If the Thunder can get more defensive stops in Thursday’s Game 3 than in Game 2, it will feel good about its chances to take a 2-1 lead, even playing in Memphis. Turning Grizzlies possessions into missed shots and defensive rebounds can lead the dynamic Thunder into its transition game to get high percentage chances at the rim. Even in the half-court, Brooks’ squad understands that the pace and tempo with which it plays will help players gain separation from their defenders, freeing up that precious space on the floor to attack, shoot or make plays.

"We have to make sure we're playing good offense, we're moving the offense and that everybody is getting a chance to make a play,” Fisher explained. “We have to run offense as a five-man team and then the shot opportunities and the plays will present themselves.”

Most of all, the Thunder needs to impose its will on the Grizzlies in Game 3. The team that is able to concentrate, execute and remain poised for the longest portion of the 48-minute battle on Thursday will be the one that comes away victorious. Every possession counts and even the timing of when the Thunder gets stops or converts on offense can impact rhythm, momentum and some of the unseen psychological advantages that can be gained throughout the night.

“It doesn't come down to what happens in the last minute of the game,” Perkins said. “Sometimes, what happens in the first 15 minutes of the game can affect what happens in the last minute.”

“As we go out on the road, it’s a great opportunity to develop the type of composure, poise, concentration and focus that you have to have in the Playoffs,” Fisher said. “It's just a matter of dialing it back down and playing with a little more composure, poise and understanding of what is going on in the game.”