GAME 3 PREVIEW

mailbag@thunder-nba.com
May 23rd 2014
Regrouping, Getting Back to Thunder Basketball

It’s not just a style of play, but rather an attitude. Thunder Basketball is the brand by which the Thunder tries to align itself on the court every single day in practice and on the game floor. For Head Coach Scott Brooks’ crew, getting back to that level is its only concern.

Coming back from an 0-2 deficit to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals will not be an easy task, but the Thunder knows it can only control what is directly in front of it- Game 3. In this best-of-seven format, Thunder leaders like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison understand that it’s the team that gets four wins first, not who is in the lead before that fourth win, that will advance to the NBA Finals.

In order to get its rhythm and verve back, the Thunder met at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center on Friday. With attention geared toward playing every single possession with defensive intensity and communication, along with emphasizing ball movement, player movement and spacing on offense, the Thunder got back to work in a high energy practice session.

“Today we focused a lot of the things that we feel we need to do to get better,” Brooks said. “We did a lot of scrimmaging just to get the feel of playing with one another and enjoying the game together, and I thought it was a great day today.”

“We have to get back to how we play and how we’ve been winning games,” Westbrook said.

Perhaps the most intriguing news of the day coming out of Thunder practice was the announcement that injured forward Serge Ibaka, who is suffering with a calf strain, has been upgraded from “out” to “day-to-day”. The team is still preparing to play without him, but at least the possibility has opened up for a return to the lineup.

Regardless of whether or not Ibaka ends up eventually suiting up in this series, General Manager Sam Presti and Brooks aren’t surprised that Ibaka and the Thunder medical staff have diligently put in the work to be in an upgraded position. The Congolese forward’s passion, competitiveness and work ethic are a hallmark of his ethos as a basketball player, and the Thunder is proud of his rehab efforts, even if he doesn’t end up playing in a game this series.

“We know how hard he’s worked in this short amount of time to give himself every opportunity to improve,” Presti said. “At the same time, we’re surprised that we’re here, although grateful that he’s made enough progress to say that he’s not ruled out.”

“When the injury happened, we knew that our medical team and Serge would get after it right away,” Brooks said. “That’s what has happened.”

No matter who ends up on the floor for the Thunder in Game 3, the Thunder knows its effort, intensity and sharpness will have to be much better than in Games 1 and 2. In the first two contests, all it took were two-to-three minute windows of poor execution, lack of focus on the defensive end or an inability to grab a loose rebound that turned the tide of the game.

The Thunder led in the third quarter of Game 1, and held a lead in the second quarter of Game 2, seemingly in control of the pace and tempo. In Game 3, the runs and spurts that did the Thunder in earlier in the series must be eliminated, as Brooks’ squad has to treat every single minute on the court and each possession like it’s the last one of the game.

“That’s the thing about the playoffs,” Brooks said. “Every possession is critical. It can change the momentum of a game and the momentum of a series.”

Of course, getting back to the comfortable surroundings of the Thunder practice facility, Oklahoma City itself and the always rocking Chesapeake Energy Arena will be a welcome sight for the team. The Spurs held serve in San Antonio and now it’s up to the Thunder to do the same. Winning in Game 3 would get things kick-started back in the right direction, and instead of looking at it is a challenge, the Thunder only sees Sunday’s tilt as an opportunity.

“We’re down 0-2 and we have a great opportunity to come in front of our home fans, play much better and put ourselves in a position to win,” Brooks continued. “That’s all we’re focusing on.”