Thunder Turns to Video in Preparation for Game 4
MEMPHIS -- The Thunder understands the challenge it faces heading into Game 4 of its first-round playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Yes, it trails the best-of-seven matchup, 2-1. Yes, the FedEx Forum will once again be loud and lively Saturday night, it always is. But the Thunder has been here before -- literally and figuratively. It has emerged victorious from 0-2 and 1-2 holes in its playoff past, including in 2011, when the Thunder fell in overtime in Game 3 in Memphis yet bounced back with a three-overtime victory in Game 4 to send the series back to Oklahoma City even at two games apiece.
"We've been through a lot of battles together," Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. "We understand that being on the road is a tough environment. You have to stick together, that's all you have. You have no other choice. If you want to win basketball games in this league, you've got to stick together; you've got to to do it for one another. We've always been that way, it's not going to change now. We have to do that once again Saturday night.
"We know it's going to be a physical game, a tough game. We'll be ready for the challenge."
The Grizzlies expect nothing less.
"That team over there is very, very talented," Memphis Head Coach Dave Joerger said. "I expect they will be very business-like on Saturday. As talented as they are, and as many big games as they have won, there will be very little talk after this. They're going to come in and be very focused on Saturday. Saturday is going to be a heck of a game."
Brooks, like his players, is using game film in his search for answers to correct a two-game shooting slide that has seen the Thunder shoot just 39.4 percent from the field (71-for-180) and 24.1 from behind the 3-point line (14-58).
"We've got to make some shots," he said, looking at the boxscore from Game 3 Thursday night. "We are a shot-making team. We've been a high field-goal percentage team all season long and I expect the guys to come out Saturday shooting with confidence and be ready to step up and make the next one.
"There's no question, they're a good defensive team just like we are. It's hard to score on either team. We have to figure out how we can get better looks for us."
Despite the recent shooting struggles, the Thunder has put itself in position to win each of the two games it lost in overtime. This series remains a first-to-four-wins matchup, with Saturday night looming large for both teams.
"We knew going into this series it was going to be a very physical series, it was going to be a very play-hard series and it hasn't let anybody down," Brooks said. "Both teams are playing hard; they've made a few more plays than us.
"One of the things I do believe, I believe in our guys, I believe in our team," he said. "We have a good group of guys that are committed to each other and they're going to play much better. They're going to get an opportunity Saturday night. They missed some shots, there's no question. They're not going out there trying to miss shots. Sometimes the ball doesn't fall. It's been two games. Hopefully the tide changes Saturday night."
Added Kevin Durant: "We're down 2-1, we don't want to go into a bigger hole than that. We'll come out, play with a little more sense of urgency and hopefully our shots go down. We've just got to believe in each other and stick together."
On Friday, the Thunder had a chance to watch film and hold a brief practice session to focus in on what it needs to do in Game 4 to even up the seven-game series at two apiece.
Head Coach Scott Brooks' club recognizes its current position down 2-1 in the series isn't exactly where it wants to be, but it has only been a possession away in each of the last two losses, both of which came in overtime. The Thunder has been right there in all three games, and it's just a matter of making plays in crunch time and stringing together multiple stops and scores. If the Thunder can build a rhythm and play its style of basketball in Game 4, it will feel good about its chances to head back to Oklahoma City all tied up.
"We're just focused on winning one game," Brooks said. "If we win one game, it becomes a best-of-three series with two games in our building. That's the only thing we're worried about, doing a better job to win one game tomorrow night."
Perhaps the best part of the Thunder's Friday film session was looking at the crucial 17-0 run late in the fourth quarter that allowed Brooks' squad to tie Game 3 and send it into overtime. It all started on the defensive end, when the Thunder impacted the ball and forced the Grizzlies to take difficult shots or turn the ball over.
"We were a little bit more aggressive than in the first quarter," forward Serge Ibaka said. "We were a little more aggressive pressuring the ball. Thabo did a great job pressuring Conley at the top. I learned and did a better job to stay home when Perk was playing one-on-one with Zach so we could get the defensive rebound and run."
Those defensive stops allowed the Thunder to get out into space on offense, creating driving lanes and simple passes to open teammates. In the halfcourt, the Thunder attacked before Memphis' defense was set and found open teammates through precise movement with and without the ball.
"We played with a little bit more pace," Brooks said. "Pace doesn't mean just running up the courut and playing wild. Pace means we played with more urgency in the halfcourt. we did a better job of setting up, coming off screens and passing the ball when the pass was there. we have to be able to sustain that for 48 minutes."
Looking at the film of that stretch displayed a potential blueprint for how the Thunder hopes to play for the entire 48 minutes in Game 4. When guard Russell Westbrook was asked if that momentum from the well-played fourth quarter can be carried over, his response was emphatic.
"Definitely," Westbrook said.