May 19th 2014
Executing with Poise

SAN ANTONIO – Thabo Sefolosha was doing crunches while Derek Fisher was knocking down extra jumpers. Energized to the point of being in constant motion, Thunder players were all over the court on Monday morning doing something to stay active.

Basketball is a rhythm game, and as Thunder shoot around wrapped up this morning, it was clear that each player was getting into their flow before Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals tonight. The matchup against the San Antonio Spurs is going to be one that requires plenty of energy, and it’s clear Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club will have plenty of that tonight. Winning tonight will also require poise, patience and proper execution. As a result, the Thunder’s mental energy will have to match its physical liveliness.

“We're excited about the opportunity,” Brooks said. “Obviously we're playing against a very talented team and a team that plays good basketball. We're going to have to play well tonight.”

The Thunder’s first objective tonight will be to communicate and be consistent on the defensive end of the floor. Stopping the Spurs vaunted offense takes full concentration for 24 seconds of the shot clock for the entirety of the game. The relentlessness of the Thunder’s commitment to staying in front of their man can be a match for San Antonio’s discipline on offense. In order for the Thunder to make sure the Spurs don’t get into a good rhythm in this one, all five defenders must be perpetually active. It starts on the perimeter with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Sefolosha, and if the Thunder can force misses or turnovers, it will give itself a chance to push the ball in transition.

“We have to get stops first,” Westbrook said. “Defending gives us opportunities to get out on the break and we can use that to our advantage.”

Offensively the Thunder wants to play with a brisk tempo both in fast break situations and in the half court. Cutting hard and with a purpose, setting up defenders by timing screens correctly and playing with force can all make a huge impact. For Durant, the focal point for any defense’s attempt to stop the Thunder, it will all come down to finding his space on the court to operate from as both a scorer and a facilitator. The Thunder needs Durant’s offense not just as a shooter, but as a dynamic playmaker.

“It'll just be getting to my spots and being disciplined with my shot,” Durant said. “I feel like I can get to wherever I want on the court, but I have to be forceful wherever I can.”

An interesting dynamic for the Thunder’s offense in this one will be how it executes in the pick-and-roll. Durant, Westbrook and Reggie Jackson can all attack the paint and get to the rim, so San Antonio’s coverage of the pick and roll will be interesting. The Thunder’s trio of playmakers will want to attack off of those pick-and-rolls, even if Spurs bigs are sitting back trying to protect against a drive to the rim.

Hitting jumpers from the free throw line or the elbows will be a good way to force the Spurs’s bigs away from the rim, but the Thunder also wants to continue attacking on a straight line to the rim more often than settling for jumpers. Being able to do both, while also driving and kicking to perimeter shooters would create a dynamic offensive punch that would be hard to stop.

“It’s just to keep them honest with the jump shot sometimes if they’re sagging off, and then attack them,” Durant said. “Tim Duncan is really good at anticipating shots and blocking them at the rim, but we have to keep attacking and playing with the pass.”

“That’s what their defense is based on, baiting you into shooting those shots,” Westbrook explained. “You have to pick them wisely, know time, score and possession and how the game is going.”