GAME 3 PREVIEW

mailbag@thunder-nba.com
May 24th 2014
Thunder Confident and Resilient

Down 3-2 in the series against the Memphis Grizzlies, down seven points with 50 seconds to go to the Los Angeles Clippers and on plenty of other occasions this postseason, the Thunder has had its back against the wall. All playoffs, the Thunder has faced adversity, worked together and gotten through those tough times. Down 2-0 to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals will require another similar effort.

Under Head Coach Scott Brooks and with the leadership of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison and others, the Thunder stays steady even in difficult circumstances. Not just this season, but in past years, the Thunder has thrived when tested and pushed to their limits, so it knows it has the ability to do so again this time around.

“It’s just embracing those moments and knowing that tough times build your character,” Durant said. “This is another step for us and another obstacle for us. We’ll see what we do and how we handle this. This is what being a man is all about and what being a team is all about.”

The confidence and trust in one another is a key component to staging a series comeback, but once the ball is tipped, the x’s and o’s and execution will be what ends up mattering the most. As the team met once again at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center on Saturday, Brooks’ club honed in on areas on offense to find better spacing and ball movement. Most importantly, however, the Thunder keyed in on finding ways to stay sharper for all four quarters on the defensive end, preventing transition three-pointers and stopping dribble penetration in the pick-and-roll.

“We have to be able to do it for 48 minutes and we have to be able to do it consistently with great focus,” Brooks said. “They’re a very good basketball team, there’s no hiding that, but we have to play better.”

“We have to be more engaged than we have been from a focus and mental standpoint,” Durant said. “The schemes will take care of themselves once we get the mentality right. We’re a confident group.”

Coach Brooks noted that in addition to improving its level of effort and energy, that there are tweaks and chances that the team may implement in Game 3 on Sunday. It remains to be seen if there will be lineup or rotation changes, in addition to tactical adjustments as well, and there is one player whose status also remains up in the air – Serge Ibaka. The injured forward has been working diligently with the Thunder’s medical staff to upgrade his condition to day-to-day with a calf strain.

Over the past week, Ibaka has been encouraging his teammates, learning while watching the games at home and finding ways to help while he’s not on the floor. Regardless of whether he suits up on Sunday, Ibaka is fully confident in the abilities of his teammates to make the proper mental and physical adjustments, and then execute on them.

“I talked to my teammates and my coaches about what I was thinking, watching the games at the house,” Ibaka said. “Sometimes you learn when you’re out. I really learned a lot last game and I’m ready to see my teammates tomorrow do a better job, and I’m sure they’re going to do it.”

“I believe in my guys,” Ibaka said. “I believe that my teammates can do better with me or without me.”

Ibaka’s mindset is pervasive within the Thunder organization, amongst players, coaches and staff alike. On the court, the Thunder still must contend with and battle the Spurs’ ability to get high percentage shots, while finding ways to create easy scoring chances of their own. In huddles, in the locker room and in the flow of the game, that trust and confidence in the resiliency and mental toughness of the 15 men in uniform will also be crucial to coming away with a much needed victory on Sunday.

“It’s just sticking to one another, knowing what we’re capable of, trusting the offense and trusting the defense,” guard Thabo Sefolosha said. “It’s about us. It’s about what basketball we play. We know we’re capable of doing it.”