Thunder Looks to Saturday with Perimeter D and Turnovers in Mind
MILWAUKEE – Late Thursday night, moments after the Thunder’s 116-115 last-second defeat to the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant remained seated at his locker, ready to share his perspective.
His message? Move on and move upwards.
With every thrilling victory and difficult loss, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club led by Durant and Russell Westbrook tries to compartmentalize what it just experienced on the court, draining out the emotion that fuels the team on the floor but can be a distraction for NBA teams off of it. By analyzing how the team played, regardless of the outcome, the Thunder removes itself from the roller coaster ride of tying itself to wins and losses. Instead, it gives Durant and company an opportunity to view their upcoming game with clear eyes and minds, helping the team improve.
“In this business, you have to move forward win or loss,” Durant said. “We’re grateful for another opportunity to play Saturday night.”
The delicate dance involved in forgetting the previous night’s success or failure while still learning from the game is one that Brooks and his coaching staff have guided the Thunder with over the past five-plus seasons. Dwelling on the result won’t help, but dedicating time, attention and focus in the film room and the practice floor to correct parts of the game that gave the team trouble is crucial to continued improvement.
After Thursday night’s loss, one area the game told the Thunder it must work on moving forward is the way it defends shooters on the perimeter. On the season, opponents are taking 26.3 three-point attempts per game against the Thunder, knocking down 37.6 percent.
Golden State hit a blistering 14 of its 23 attempts from long range on Thursday night, but the Thunder knows that if it sticks to its principles of being tied on a string defensively and closing out to contest shooters, it can force misses and also run its opponents off the three-point line, into the less efficient long-two territory.
“We have to move past it and guard the three-point line better and we’ll be fine,” Durant said.
“Defending the three is one of the hardest things to do in this league,” Brooks said. “You have to be able to do a better job of defending… We have to be able to guard that throughout the game.”
As Brooks’ club turns its attention to its matchup on Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, the other aspect of the game that it wants to refocus upon is playing with better ball control and valuing every possession. On Thursday night the Thunder turned the ball over 19 times, leading to 29 Warriors points.
Looking ahead, the Thunder still wants to play its fast paced style, but with more care and diligence. As a perennial All NBA player, Durant believes that it is up to him to lead the Thunder and set the example by showing the importance of ball protection every time down the court. If Durant keeps his turnovers low, he believes that the entire rest of the Thunder squad will follow suit, leading to a better offensive flow for himself and all five men on the floor.
“It’s contagious,” Durant said. “I’m the leader. I can’t go out there and get five turnovers a game. If my teammates see that, they’re going to think they can be lax with the ball. I just can’t do that.”
“I’ve got to make shots, I’ve got to put pressure on the rim, on the defense and get to the free throw line,” Durant continued. “I just have to be better.”