GAME 5 PREVIEW

mailbag@thunder-nba.com
May 28th 2014
Increased Intensity on the Road


The Thunder took care of business in its two games at home, but in the minds of players and coaches, both they and the San Antonio Spurs have simply done their jobs up to this point.

With the Western Conference Finals tied at 2-2 heading back to Game 5 in San Antonio on Thursday, the Thunder got right back to work on Wednesday at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center. Despite building a 27-point lead in its 105-92 victory over the Spurs on Tuesday, the Thunder was highly critical of itself during its film session, producing even more hunger heading into the pivotal matchup on Thursday. Leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook fuel that Thunder engine that helps the team keep its edge even after wins.

“We’re going to have to ramp it up a little bit more heading into San Antonio,” Durant said. “It’s about figuring out what we need to do better. There are a lot of things that we need to work on that we needed to see on film. It was a good film session for us. We have to put it into play tomorrow.”

The leadership on the Thunder’s roster help the entire squad stay both steady and ready for whatever is thrown the team’s way. On Tuesday, Jeremy Lamb was forced to step into a larger role, and came through thanks to his preparation. Rookie Steven Adams has posted the third most blocked shots in the 2014 Playoffs while playing more minutes than he did during the regular season.

With each situation, the Thunder adjusts, but derives its energy and intensity from the dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook. The latter, in particular, has helped the Thunder thrive with his hustle, determination and relentlessness, which was on full display in his Tuesday night effort that featured 40 points, ten assists, five rebounds and five steals.

“That just sets the tone,” Adams said. “With Russ being the point guard, we look to him to set the tone. He sets the bar really high and we just try to meet that. He’s a big ball of energy so we’ll try and match it.”

Defensively, the Thunder was beyond solid against the Spurs on Tuesday, holding San Antonio to under 40 percent shooting from the field, while scoring 21 points off of 13 Spurs turnovers. The Thunder brand of basketball was working to full effect as Brooks’ club outscored San Antonio 21-0 in fast break points. That effort will have to be replicated at an even higher level now that the series has turned again to San Antonio.

Much of the Thunder’s success on Tuesday was derived from the communication, quickness and athleticism it displayed on the defensive end. The presence of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins in the paint deterred any Spurs attempts near the rim, and allowed Thunder perimeter defenders to thrive by being aggressive.

Perhaps the personification of that effort came from Durant, who was seemingly everywhere within the defensive scheme. Whether it was diving down to seal off the weak-side big man from receiving an entry pass or flying back out to the perimeter to contest a shot, Durant’s activity was contagious. In order to win in Game 5, the Thunder will need a similar effort from all five men on the floor.

“We have to be on high alert on all of their actions,” Brooks said. “We have to play with effort and great IQ. In order to beat them, that’s what we have to do.”

“You have to have your coverages in check throughout the game against a team that has so many offensive weapons,” Brooks explained. “With those coverages, you have to have the great effort. They go hand in hand. If you don’t do your coverages with great effort, they aren’t going to help you out.”

This has now become a best-of-three series, with only one game remaining at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Saturday’s Game 6. In order for the Thunder to advance to the NBA Finals, Brooks’ club will have to win at least one game on the road. One of the best teams away from home in the NBA this season, the Thunder is fully confident in its ability to win in any environment, so it is throwing all of its focus into Thursday’s game with hopes of being able to get that much-needed win on the road as soon as possible in this series. It will be a stiff challenge, but one that the Thunder is confident it can pull off.

“We’re focused on one game, and that’s Game 5,” Brooks said.

“We have to definitely be engaged and ready in order to go in there and win,” Durant said.