May 21st 2014
Bringing Better Energy

SAN ANTONIO – Thunder Center Kendrick Perkins calls watching film, “going to the Truth Box” and Head Coach Scott Brooks ensures that his team is honest with itself after losses and wins alike.

On Tuesday, between the Thunder’s Game 1 loss to the San Antonio Spurs and its Game 2 showdown on Wednesday night, the team assembled at a gym close to the team hotel in order to watch film, breakdown areas to improve and build cohesion. Leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook help the Thunder take responsibility for their performances while also bringing an optimistic mindset to each practice, shoot around and film session.

Leadership on this Thunder squad has helped the team deal with adversity not just during the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers, but throughout the season. Once again, Durant knows that he and the veterans have a duty to be at times both constructively critical and encouraging.

“We know that we have to be better in some areas of the game and we also know we can improve early in the game,” Durant said. “Staying positive is definitely important for us. As a leader, I have to come back and encourage my guys but also let them know what we have to do better at the same time. We’re trying to have that good balance.”

An example of that honesty and optimism heading into Game 2 was what the Thunder saw on film in terms of its defensive coverages. Throughout the night in Game 1, the Spurs were able to attack off the dribble or in the pick-and-roll to get easy baskets in the paint. Either a step slow or out of position, the Thunder allowed drivers to get to the rim and roll men to make easy catches on the move.

As veteran, defensive minded players like Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha pointed out, there was a crucial stretch in the third quarter where the Thunder managed to rally back from its early double-digit deficit to take a one-point lead. The reason for that was its ability to get stops continually throughout the quarter because the team played with the requisite focus, energy and communication necessary to play the Thunder’s brand of basketball.

“We saw a little stretch where we played better,” Collison said. “So that needs to be our new normal. That needs to be how we play for the majority of the game.”

“We just have to communicate on the defensive end,” Sefolosha explained. “Made baskets or missed baskets, they’re going to try to run initially. We just have to build a wall. They have some guys that can break the defense down and go all the way to the basket. We have to close that out by communicating and being on the same page.”

The Thunder’s comeback fizzled out when the team took a few rushed shots, turned the ball over and was out of position on defense on the ensuing few possessions, which turned the tide of the game. Momentum is a fickle beast in the playoffs. Between games, it has less of a hold, but during a game, it can be crucial. Playing with poise and composure will be critical as the series moves along, because the Thunder must value every single possession on both ends of the floor.

“It’s just to keep your foot on the gas,” Westbrook explained. “We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to do whatever we need to do to get it done. There are going to be times where they are going to make plays. There are going to be times where we make plays. We just have to continue to stay with it.”

As the Thunder wrapped up its practice session, guard Derek Fisher was one of the last on the court, as usual. His consistency in effort and intensity is a hallmark of the standard that exists within the entire Thunder locker room, and is something the team hopes to display each night on the court, regardless of how the ball bounces at times.

The Thunder knows that playing against a high level opponent like the Spurs is both a physical and mental challenge, but also that it is up to the task. Brooks’ club is an experienced, but vibrant, young and athletic group, and thanks to leaders like Durant, Westbrook, Collison, Perkins and Fisher, every man on the team believes in one another to get the job done.

“We have to remain with a high level of positivity even in the face of struggle, bad performance and bad games,” Fisher said. “We’ve had to do it before in this postseason and we’ll have to do it again. We’ll come back and we want to play better. We feel like we will play better and at eight o’clock tomorrow we’ll find out.”