GAME 2 PREVIEW

mailbag@thunder-nba.com
May 21st 2014
Possession by Possession Consistency

SAN ANTONIO – If the ball bounces the right way on two or three straight possessions, it can mean all the difference in the world in the NBA playoffs.

As the Thunder knows from years from experience, every minute and every possession of playoff games are crucial to the outcome of the game. Momentum can be a fickle beast in the postseason, but Head Coach Scott Brooks knows that it doesn’t carry over from game-to-game, but is a true factor in the midst of games. Behind veterans like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison, the Thunder will look to maintain poise and composure throughout the entirety of Game 2 tonight against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

“The game itself is possession by possession,” Collison explained. “We realize that. We’ve been here before. That’s one of the good things about playoff experience. You realize that you have to be able to turn the page and that the series isn’t won until somebody gets four wins.”

Where the Thunder must be most vigilant tonight is on the defensive end, where the Spurs seemingly got wherever they wanted in Game 1. Not only will the execution be critical, but the kick starter to that ability to get stops starts simply with better and more focused effort. The Thunder is at its best defensively when it is swarming as a collective unit, closing out on shooters and forcing difficult, contested two-point jumpers. In order to be successful tonight, the Thunder will have to do that on nearly every possession to try to make the Spurs miss or turn the ball over.

“It’s closing up the paint and getting out to their shooters,” Durant said. “We have a long, athletic team that can make second and third efforts. We just have to continue to move the ball on the offensive end.”

The focal point for the Thunder’s defensive efforts will come in the pick-and-roll, as Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher will have to play with toughness on the ball and the Thunder’s bigs will have to communicate. In order to stop dribble penetration and kick-outs to shooters, the Thunder’s execution on its pick-and-roll defense will have to be air tight, as all five men must be tied on a string together. Thunder bigs will also have to recover quickly to the roll man diving to the rim.

“You have to be able to do it all against this team,” Brooks said. “The pick-and-roll ball handler is really good. The screen setter is really good and then the spacers on the floor are all 40 percent three-point shooters. You have to be really good with your coverage.”

“We can make some adjustments to help ourselves, but we still have to execute it and do it every time,” Brooks continued. “Doing it doesn’t guarantee they are going to miss a shot, but it gives you the best chance.”

The man the Thunder will look to as its leader on both ends of the floor is Durant, who has seen time playing seemingly every position, from point guard to center throughout this season. Durant’s versatility and ability to be a factor offensively and defensively at all five positions has been a gradual process, and one that is key to the Thunder’s lineup flexibility. Throughout the course of Game 2, the Thunder will have to play a variety of lineups and be effective during them all, with Durant as a key cog within the team’s schemes.

“Mentally I’m just telling myself I can do it and be really good at it,” Durant said. “I’m staying confident no matter what happens and am just watching film to see how I can get better in those spots. I’m always asking questions of the coaches, of what they want me to do in those spots, what sets we need to run and how I can give myself up for the team.”