May 29th 2014
Maintaining Focus and Composure

SAN ANTONIO – The crowd is going to be wild, the game pressure at its highest and the stakes enormous, but on Thursday’s shoot around, the Thunder tried to find its serenity.

Tonight’s Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs will be a battle royale, with both teams clawing to gain control of this 2-2 series. Whichever team can win two more games first will have a berth in the NBA Finals, meaning that both teams will employ every tactic and weapon at its disposal to gain an advantage. In order to deal with unforeseen factors, new challenges and changes to the on-court circumstances, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club knows that staying even keeled and finding ways to execute on each trip down court will be essential to success.

“We’ve talked a long time about staying within ourselves and not letting anything penetrate our focus,” Brooks explained. “That’s all the things that can penetrate it, the crowd and the tough calls that you might experience. We have to stay focused, composed, stay with our game plan and stay together.”

“We know we have to play with a great deal of energy, toughness and teamwork,” Brooks said. “They’re going to come out and make some adjustments and we have to be prepared for all of them.”

Team leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, along with veterans Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher and Nick Collison have been through tons of playoff battles, and are helping less experienced players like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams through the process. As the series has unfolded, the Thunder has identified some ways to be successful, showing that in Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City.

In order to win on the road, the Thunder will have to carry over some of the crucial aspects of its defensive and offensive performances. Brooks may not get another sensational 40-point, 10-assist, five-rebound, five-steal game out of Westbrook again, but every man on the roster knows that they must control one thing- their defensive effort. If the Thunder can continue to force the Spurs into contested, difficult two-point jumpers, it can once again follow its game plan of rebounding and running in the open floor.

“Regardless of what I did offensively, our defense won us the game,” Westbrook said. “Defensively is where I can make the most impact.”

“We need to stay in the same line, focused, and do what we did the last two games at home,” Ibaka said.

A major reason for the Thunder’s success in Games 3 and 4 compared to the losses in Games 1 and 2 has been the defense’s ability to limit the Spurs’ three-point shooting and the effectiveness of role players like Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills. In San Antonio, those players are more likely to be what the Thunder calls a “wild card”. In order to keep the Spurs in check overall, the Thunder must limit those wild cards as much as possible, and not allow them to feel confident in their shot.

“Role players feel comfortable at home,” Jackson said. “They have a lot of guys who can get hot at any time, whether it be at the three-point line or getting inside and getting a few baskets. We’re going to try to run them off the line but also contain them off the dribble.”

On the flip side, the Thunder will need to continue getting positive contributions from their own role players. Perkins had ten rebounds in Game 4, while Adams and Lamb both made major impacts in Oklahoma City. No matter who is on the floor for the Thunder, Durant, Westbrook and company have full faith in their ability to get the job done. Once the ball is tipped, whoever Brooks tabs for minutes will have to play them with full energy, confidence and poise.

“We need everybody to play their game, do what they’ve been doing, have confidence in themselves and confidence in what they do,” Westbrook said.

“We need everybody to come in here and play extremely hard in order for us to have a chance to win this game,” Durant said. “It should be a fun one.”