May 26th 2014
Raising Play to a Higher Level

In a high level series like this Western Conference Finals clash against the San Antonio Spurs, there’s no room for even a minute of complacency.

As the Thunder displayed for all 48 minutes on Sunday night, constant vigilance and a commitment to focusing on team principles can lead to success. With the Spurs leading the series 2-1, Head Coach Scott Brooks knows that his squad has to bring an equal level of intensity and energy to Tuesday’s Game 4, but that the Thunder will have to play at an even higher level.

As a result, the Thunder went through an extended film session and walked through some areas of the game on offense and defense where it can improve in Game 4. Behind leaders Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder’s attention turned immediately to the task at hand, which is trying to even the series.

“Coach (Brooks) did a good job of showing us that on the film and letting us know what we need to do better,” Durant said. “So guys are focusing a lot on how important this game is and we have to come out more intense because they're going to throw their best punch at us to start the game in all the games, so we have to be ready for it.”

A veteran squad like the Thunder recognizes that not only is Tuesday night’s game a challenge, but an opportunity to continue building momentum in the series. In order to repeat the performance that helped the team build a 20-point lead in Game 3 before eventually winning 106-97, the Thunder will need to capitalize on its chances on both sides of the ball.

On defense, the Thunder was able to keep Tony Parker out of the lane and on offense the triumvirate of Durant, Westbrook and Reggie Jackson continually attacked to create opportunities for themselves and shooters like Caron Butler and Jeremy Lamb. The Thunder will have to operate at a high level once again in Game 4, or Game 3’s win won’t mean nearly as much.

“It’s just keeping everything in perspective,” Butler said. “It was just one game, and obviously you want to continue to protect home court and get another one and even the series. Just continue to execute our offense and continue to move forward and build off the momentum from the last game.”

Another core component to victory will be the play of Serge Ibaka, who continued his recovery from a calf injury during Monday’s session at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center. Ibaka said that his pain has not increased after playing 30 minutes in Sunday’s win. In order to put together another defensive effort like Sunday’s when the Thunder held San Antonio to under 40 percent shooting and 16 turnovers, Ibaka’s activity, athleticism and positioning will have to be at a high level. In fact, Ibaka wants himself and his fellow big men to make a few adjustments to be even more effective against the Spurs’ shooters and drivers.

“We can be a little more aggressive,” Ibaka said. “When we go big, we can be a little more aggressive, try and make sure those guys that can shoot threes, we force them to put the ball on the floor, and then we're going to figure out the points in the paint.”

Brooks agreed with Ibaka that one of the biggest factors in coming away victorious on Tuesday will be how the Thunder defends the three-point line. Through the first three games, the Spurs have hit 28 three-pointers due to their off-ball movement, screen setting and relentlessness in finding shooters throughout the shot clock.

Thunder defenders like Jackson, Lamb and Durant are charged with chasing their men around screens, under the rim and tracking them down in transition in order to get out and contest those jumpers. If the Thunder can force the Spurs off the three-point line and make them take contested two-pointers, Brooks and his staff will feel great about the defensive effort, along with the Thunder’s chances to tie the series at 2-2.

“You have to be on them step by step, following them, chasing their footsteps and being able to contest right on the catch,” Brooks explained. “We have to keep doing a good job with that. We did a better job with that, but we have to take it to another level tomorrow night.”