May 19th 2014
Preparation Breeds Confidence

SAN ANTONIO – The Thunder has put in the work. Now it’s time to play.

Over the past three days Head Coach Scott Brooks has put his team through two practices, a shoot around and film sessions in order to get ready for tonight, a showdown between two franchises who have been Western Conference contenders for years. As the Thunder squares off against the San Antonio Spurs tonight in the Western Conference Finals, it will lean on the work that it has put in over the course of the season and over the last few days to be aware and prepared for everything that the Spurs has in its arsenal.

“It was good to have a couple days of practice just in preparation of what San Antonio does and how they play,” Brooks said. “We went over a lot of their personnel, a lot of their tendencies. We had two good days of work. We’re excited about going down there and playing Game 1. Our guys were really engaged and our practices were high energy.”

The first key for the Thunder, as it is in every game, will be its defense. The Spurs are a team that plays with a strong tempo on offense and with crisp, precise ball and player movement. In film study, Thunder players had a chance to see extensively why the Spurs are able to find success and how to potentially limit those reasons.

Being physical on and off the ball with be paramount to success because it can prevent Spurs players from making quick cuts or relocating to their preferred spots on the three-point line. The Thunder wants to limit the space on the floor to prevent the Spurs from feeling like they have breathing room to operate in the half court.

“They’re doing a great job of moving the ball,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “We figured out that they really like to play freely.”

“We have to try to limit them, touch them up as much as possible, limit their free cuts and try to pressure the ball,” Jackson continued.

While Kendrick Perkins will have his hands full with Tim Duncan in the paint, much of the work in this series will come on the perimeter, where guards like Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher will be called upon to be solid on every single possession. The Spurs are an extremely skilled squad, so they’ll score points through their potent offense.

The Thunder, however, has to limit the easy baskets and force San Antonio to shoot over an outstretched arm. Contested shots that the Spurs make is something the Thunder can live with. Conversely, allowing dribble penetration leading to layups or wide open jumpers won’t be a recipe for success in this series.

“All of our perimeter players are going to have to step up another level to play against San Antonio,” Brooks said. “Their perimeter players are good and they have good passing bigs who really know how to play.”

On offense, however, the Thunder wants exactly what it hopes to take away from the Spurs. Westbrook and Durant’s ability to attack off the dribble and in the pick-and-roll can help the Thunder get into the heart of the defense, allowing those two All Star playmakers to make easy decisions.

The third dynamic playmaker on the floor for the Thunder is Jackson, who averaged nearly 21 points per game on 68 percent shooting against the Spurs in the four regular season matchups this year. Jackson must continue to attack, get to the rim and make plays for shooters like Caron Butler in order for the Thunder to score at an efficient clip tonight.

“Getting into the paint is my best attribute,” Jackson said. “My teammates are doing a great job of setting screens and allowing me to play freely. They’re on me about being aggressive. I think that all ties into it.”

“It starts with those guys penetrating,” Butler said. “Our playmakers- (Reggie), Russell and Kevin, they get into the paint with the best of them and create opportunities for everyone else.”