May 27th 2014
48 Minutes of Focus

The Thunder may have pulled away for a crucial Game 3 victory, but if there was any satisfaction was erased immediately after Sunday’s win in the locker room.

Veterans like Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher and Nick Collison, along with leaders Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook used Sunday’s win as a great example for the entire squad to see what it can accomplish when focused for an entire 48 minutes. The same sense of urgency and consistent intensity will be necessary tonight as the Thunder squares off against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The key to the Thunder’s victory in Game 3 was its persistence and communication on every defensive possession, and those factors must be in place once again tonight.

“We have to still come out with the same mindset,” Perkins said. “Our on the ball defense was great, starting with Russ. He set the tone early. We have to be there again tonight for 48 minutes. You have to expect that they’re going to come out and make some adjustments tonight, so we have to be ready. They have a lot of tricks up their sleeve.”

Throughout this postseason and in years past, the Thunder has faced adversity and fallen into series deficits. Its hunger, togetherness and collective fight to persevere despite a 3-2 series deficit against the Memphis Grizzlies, the loss of players to injury or trying circumstances within games has proven to the team that they are capable of persevering through anything.

What Durant and Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team realizes, however, is that just because the Thunder has found ways to overcome the odds in the past, it doesn’t mean anything is guaranteed now. All five men on the court still have to play with the same passion, fire and energy that has helped the Thunder get to its third Western Conference Finals in the past four years.

“Just because we went through those times, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again,” Durant explained. “We have to go out there, play the game and try to take it. It’s just knowing that a couple of possessions can switch a series up. We know that. It’s good for our young guys to get that experience.”

The tone for the Thunder starts with its leaders and how they play on the defensive end. Over the course of the season, the team seems to always play its best when Durant and Westbrook’s defensive presence is felt from the very first possession of the game. Being forceful at the point of attack in pick-and-roll coverages along with chasing the Spurs’ shooters all over the floor will be critical aspects of the Thunder’s defensive strategy of forcing San Antonio into taking difficult, contested two-point jumpers.

“We’re just trying to play as hard as we can,” Durant said. “We set the tone as leaders on the defensive end. It’s just getting into the ball and making life easier for the bigs, but not relying on them so much and putting them in position to get into foul trouble.”

The precision on defense tonight will be the number one priority for Brooks’ club, but falls into the overarching goal of treating every possession with the utmost importance. On offense, that mentality will be equally key. The Thunder must avoid live ball turnovers and try to get a high percentage look at the rim on every single possession.

Turning defensive stops into rebounds and run outs will put pressure on the Spurs defense, then the trio of Westbrook, Durant and Reggie Jackson can attack to create opportunities for themselves or others. Tonight, the team that plays with the most poise and effort will be the one who comes away victorious, and the Thunder hopes that recipe will lead to tying this series up at 2-2.

“We have to make sure that we start off early not turning the ball over and not wasting any possessions on the defensive or offensive ends in the second quarter,” Perkins said.

“We just have to keep playing together and playing aggressively,” Durant said. “When we’re the aggressors, we put ourselves in a great position.”