May 3rd, 2014
Giving Everything in Game 7

As competitors, nights like tonight are ones Thunder players live for. It’s a do-or-die, Game 7 against a stout opponent, and the Thunder gets to play in front of its home fans.

In the final game of its first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder will have the chance to follow up its brilliant performance in Game 6 on the road with a win-or-go-home battle at Chesapeake Energy Arena. On both ends of the floor, the Thunder looks to its leaders to set the tone.

In Game 6, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s intensity on the defensive end ensured that every one of their teammates rose to the same level of focus and concentration, and it led to a dominating 104-84 victory. The challenge will be even higher tonight, so Durant knows that it will be crucial to come out with a defensive attitude from the opening tip.

“I do feel a responsibility,” Durant said. “I have to do it and I will do it- coming out and playing as hard as I can on defense. Offensively, it’s going to come. I don’t worry about that part. Just learning from Game 5 and Game 6, coming out with that energy, it really helps my team. I have to be better in that area to start the game and throughout the game and try to sustain it for as long as I can.”

Under Head Coach Scott Brooks, the only pressure Thunder players ever feel, even in a Game 7 like tonight, is to give everything they have to their teammates, play as hard as they can and devote themselves to the team’s game plan. That always starts on the defensive end for the Thunder, as the team tries to force difficult, contested shots that turn into transition and easy offensive opportunities.

As for its matchup with the Grizzlies tonight, Thunder players from Kendrick Perkins to Steven Adams and everyone in between understands that regardless of who Memphis puts on the court, they will present a potent challenge. The Thunder will prepare for just about every possible scenario or changes that the Grizzlies may make in their lineups and strategy, but also believes in executing its own game plan first and foremost.

The focal point for the Grizzlies’ attack will be point guard Mike Conley on the ball, but also center Marc Gasol, who plays more like a point forward out of the elbow and high post. For Thunder bigs like Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Perkins and Adams, a key will be to limit the space with which Gasol gets to operate in attempts to prevent backdoor passes or kickouts to shooters.

“He’s a really good passer,” Adams explained. “You have to really try to jam him up because he always finds the cutters and he can shoot a little bit as well. We’re trying to get him outside more so it kind of limits his options out there.”

Although the Grizzlies won’t completely change their identity from Game 6 to Game 7, there is always the possibility of some new wrinkles that could be thrown in, which is why leaders like Durant are making sure the Thunder is prepared for whatever may come. Regardless of who is on the floor, the Thunder knows that it has the personnel to match up and defend what comes their way. In the end, it will be whichever team plays with the most energy and intensity in its execution that will come away victorious, and move on to the Western Conference Semifinals.

“We just know that they’re a good team across the board,” Durant said. “We can’t let the game come to us. We have to go take it.”

“We have to be confident prepared, focused and ready to have fun,” Durant continued.