Using 3-0 Road Trip as Momentum
In the course of an 82-game season the Thunder has plenty of memorable moments, but its three-game Eastern Conference trip to Chicago, Cleveland and Toronto may be one that helps propel it to new heights.
The momentum cresting off of the Thunder’s unbelievable 119-118 double overtime victory in Toronto was palpable at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center on Sunday afternoon as the team gathered together for practice in advance of a home-road back-to-back set against the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks. Head Coach Scott Brooks made sure his club got right back to work after its emotional 3-0 road trip so it could build on the aspects of the game where it performed well and clean up some areas of slippage.
“I’m very proud,” Brooks explained. “We had an outstanding basketball trip. They were three physical games and I thought we did a good job of executing. That last game obviously, the way it ended it up was an instant classic.
“We made a lot of good basketball plays and a lot of good things we can continue to build on and things that we need to look at and get better with, but I thought guys played all three games the way we’re supposed to play them,” Brooks said.
In Chicago, the Thunder grinded out a victory over the defensive-minded Bulls by pulling away in the fourth quarter with a 16-1 run. In Cleveland, the team made a big push in the second and third quarters, then withstood a Cavaliers onslaught in the fourth quarter to keep them at arms length. In Toronto, the Thunder battled all night and seemingly into the next morning, as both teams made big shots and huge defensive stops to keep the game going through two overtimes.
With 1.7 seconds left, Kevin Durant finally ended it with a deep three-pointer from the left wing, then contested on an attempted game-winner by the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan, sealing the win. Every member of the Thunder squad could be proud to come away victorious, including veterans like Caron Butler, who saw a resiliency and focus that he hopes will carry over into the final few weeks of the regular season and into the Playoffs.
“We just continued to play hard and stay aboard,” Butler said. “Everybody just kept paying attention to detail, stayed positive and stayed together… We’ll just try to build on that momentum and continue to get better.”
“No matter what the situation is, down eight, down seven with a minute to go, whatever the case, we always have a shot to win,” Butler continued.
With tenured veterans like Butler, Derek Fisher, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha in the fold, the Thunder has battle-tested players who understand how to stay composed in tough moments. Brooks also has dynamic offensive and defensive young veterans in Russell Westbrook, who practiced as normal today because his knee injury in Toronto was classified as just a sprain, and Serge Ibaka, who both command incredible attention from opponents at all times.
Emerging players like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson are all called upon to contribute, but all of those valuable pieces work together because of the leadership of Kevin Durant. His world-class offensive skill is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Durant’s ability to override the outcome of a game. Whether it is on the boards, in a defensive stance, in the huddle or on the team plane, Durant exudes confidence and humility all at once.
“There are so many ways he displays his leadership in areas of our organization,” Brooks said. “Whether it’s in the locker room, on the bus, in the hotel, on the court during a timeout, Kevin has been an incredible leader.”
“Defensively, (Durant) impacts the game,” Brooks continued. “I personally don’t think you can lead a team if you just want to score points and not commit to what your team believes in, and we are a defensive team.”
As a unit, the Thunder has stuck to the core principles of defense, unselfish offense and daily intensity that Brooks, Durant, Westbrook, Collison and Ibaka set forth in the first two years of the franchise’s history. Moving forward, the Thunder wants to stay true to the values that have helped the organization achieve a higher winning percentage in every single season the team has been in Oklahoma City.
“It’s just playing together and playing the same way that we played,” Westbrook explained. “Don’t come out and be lackadaisical. Play every night and go out and try to get a win.”