April 29th, 2014
Thunder Wants to Impose its Will

After battling on the road for two games and spending four days in Memphis, the Thunder has a chance to take control of its first round playoff series against the Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight.

In a 2-2 series, with three of the games going into overtime, the margins have been extremely small and the room for error even more miniscule. Team leaders like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison have been with the Thunder for every single season that the team has been in existence, so nights like tonight in Game 5 are ones in which they take immense pride in taking care of the task at hand by playing with the requisite togetherness, toughness and trust in one another. On the offensive end that translates to spacing the floor, distributing the ball to all five players and creating the best possible scoring chances as a unit.

“The biggest thing that we want to do as a team is playing the right way so that guys have opportunities to make plays,” Collison explained. “If we pass the ball and have good spacing and move it two or three times, then all the sudden those drives and attacks to the basket have a lot more space.”

“It’s just imposing our will, coming out there aggressive and taking the game from the beginning of the game,” Durant said. “We have to come out there and play Thunder basketball, which is physical defense, moving the basketball and having fun.”

Many of the Thunder’s offensive opportunities come off of its ability to defend and rebound the ball. In all four games of the series, the Thunder has out-rebounded the Grizzlies, but it will take another strong effort in that category to clean up misses and turn them into transition chances.

An important way the Thunder can force the Grizzlies into difficult shots is to contain the Grizzlies’ pick-and-roll attack at the top of the key. Memphis’ Mike Conley and Beno Udrih will be primary ball handlers for the Grizzlies with Marc Gasol as the screener at the top of the key, so it will be up to Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher to work in concert with Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka in their pick-and-roll coverages.

“We were better last game of getting over the screen and getting the big back to his man,” Collison said. “We weren’t getting drug out as much with two defenders on the ball. We want to continue to do that.”

“That’s something we learn on the first day of training camp. That’s a defensive fundamental for us,” Collison continued. “A lot of this stuff we know what we’re supposed to do, but we have to do it at a high level though.”

Most of all, in front of the intense Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd, the Thunder knows it has to start the game with the right mentality, focus and energy, and extend it for the entirety of the 48 minute game. Setting the tone early with its effort can make a huge difference in Game 5 tonight, and by playing with physicality, intelligence and communicating with one another, the Thunder has a chance to take a 3-2 series lead.

“We know we have to impose our will,” Durant said. “We have to hit these guys first. Just because we’re at home, we can’t relax and let the game come to us. We have to take it.”

“That’s really what it is about, is who can execute and who can have the right energy coming out at the start of the game,” Collison said. “There’s not a lot of chess moves that can be made. It’s more about going out there and doing it.”