April 24th, 2014
Experienced Thunder to Play with Resolve

There was a firm focus in the eyes of Thunder players on Tuesday after practice, and on Wednesday there was an exuberance and palpable energy in the air at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center.

That combination of both the mental and physical readiness has been a tenet of the Thunder’s program for years under the leadership of Head Coach Scott Brooks, along with leaders Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. On Tuesday, the Thunder engaged in a lengthy film session to identify mistakes and opportunities that the team missed in Game 2, then on Wednesday before taking off for Memphis, Brooks’ squad got onto the floor for a brief session to put some of those strategies into practice.

“We just locked in a few important things that we have to get done tomorrow night,” Brooks said. “On both ends of the floor, we have to play a little bit better.”

“It was just keying in on the little things that we need to do to win games,” Westbrook explained. “We had some good film work, watched our mistakes and watched where we can get better.”

On both sides of the floor, the Thunder has some objectives it wants to take care of in Game 3 against the Grizzlies at the Fed Ex Forum in Memphis. The number one priority for the Thunder is to keep Grizzlies’ ball-handlers out of the lane, denying them space to operate and initiate Memphis’ offense.

The Thunder’s bigs will be busy containing Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the high-and-low post, so it will be up to guards like Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher to apply relentless pressure on Memphis’ Mike Conley and Beno Udrih.

“We have to keep their guards in front of us,” Brooks said. “Even their guys off the bench, they can’t come in and make a major impact.”

On offense, the Thunder has to maintain the flow, rhythm, spacing and trust that it exhibited throughout the regular season. The physical, hands-on Memphis defense can be averted through proper ball-movement and crisp execution early in the possession. It will be important for players like Serge Ibaka and Caron Butler to get touches and shot opportunities to create a vital balance that will force the Grizzlies’ defense to not key solely on Durant and Westbrook.

“We’re at our best when we get in our spots, when we lock in on our offense, focus on the play, run off of it, set screens and keep them from holding us,” Brooks explained.

During the regular season, the Thunder went 1-1 on the road against the Grizzlies and 3-1 overall. At 25-16, the Thunder had the second best road record in the NBA this year en route to a 59 win season, so it is confident in its ability to get the job done in Memphis. The battle-tested Thunder has had to win road Playoff games in the past, and with another year of experience under the group’s collective belt, the team believes it has the requisite poise, communication and toughness to come away victorious in Game 3.

“In order to win games in the Playoffs, you have to win on the road,” Westbrook said. “Regardless of whether we had won Game 2, we would have had to win on the road if we want to win. We have to go in there and take care of business.”

“We’ve been a great road team all year,” Brooks said. “We have to do it again. We’re not focused on anything other than Game 3. We have to play with force, energy and enthusiasm and we have to do it together for 48 minutes, one possession at a time.”

There’s something to be said for the countless Playoff wars the Thunder has been in together over the years. Between Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka, along with wily veterans Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Fisher, the Thunder has a wealth of knowledge and experience to rely upon to find resolve in tough moments and to pounce when opportunities present themselves in the possession-by-possession Playoff environment.

“We’ve been through a lot of games,” Brooks explained. “We’ve been up in series, down in series and have had some good moments and not-so-good moments.”

“We’re ready to play,” Brooks said. “The only bad thing about the days in between is you get a little antsy and you want to get out on the court again and play better. We have a great opportunity tomorrow night, we’re excited about it and we’re ready.”