Thunder Keying on Individual Defensive Pride

The stop-and-start schedule for the Thunder may create a unique rhythm, but that isn’t changing the way the Thunder gets to work.

After a home-road back-to-back set on Monday and Tuesday, the Thunder had an off day Wednesday before holding a practice at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center on Thursday. In advance of its Friday night tilt against the Sacramento Kings, Head Coach Scott Brooks wanted to get his squad together on the floor and in the film room so that it can prepare for the final stretch of 11 regular season games.

“We’ll just continue to clean up on things on both ends of the floor,” Brooks said. “We had a good session today. We talked about the individual pride of guarding your man, staying in front of the basketball and a couple of other things we feel are important for us going forward.”

The biggest key for the Thunder coming out of Thursday’s practice was the need to improve its individual pride, discipline and execution of the team’s defensive philosophy on every play for 24 seconds. Since the All-Star Break, Thunder leaders like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison have felt the results on the defensive end have been inconsistent, and as a whole not quite up to the Thunder’s normal performance standards. Not only will the Thunder look to improve its ability to stop players in one-on-one situations, but also to rotate smoothly within the five-man shell and then box out and grab a defensive rebound.

“We need to be more consistent defensively,” Collison said. “We’re still not as good as we want to be. We’ve had some stretches where we’ve been okay, but since the break we haven’t been as good as we want to be… We want to try to lock in and have a solid couple of weeks heading into the playoffs.”

“It’s staying in front of the basketball on the perimeter, then blocking out and getting rebounds,” Brooks explained. “We’ve been a good defensive team all year. We’ve made some strides the last couple of weeks. Blocking out is important. When we out-rebound teams, we put ourselves in a pretty good position to win games.”

The execution of the defense is one important aspect that has been a challenge, as veterans like Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha have all missed time due to injuries over the last couple of months. The more crucial part of the Thunder’s ability to get stops on a possession-by-possession basis is the concentration, intensity and communication that goes on amongst all five players on the floor. That starts with a mindset and focus, which needs to be evident on every single play.

“If you want to win a championship, you have to have it,” Westbrook said. “You have to have that attitude to come on the floor every night and take pride in guarding your man and also helping somebody else out. It’s not all about guarding one-on-one. It’s about team defense, helping each other out and trying to win games.”

Over the next three weeks as the regular season comes to a close and the Thunder prepares for the postseason, the team wants to continue building good habits that will help it be successful in April and beyond. As a leader and the team’s starting point guard, Westbrook recognizes that much of the responsibility of starting each game and each possession off strong lies on his shoulders. With his athleticism, speed, quickness and length, Westbrook has all of the physical tools to be a disruptive presence at the top of the defense, and wants to put that on the floor each night.

“It’s just to be aggressive,” Westbrook said. “We have to come out with a defensive mindset. Starting with myself, we have to do a better job of setting the tone early… I have to step up defensively. That’s just what I have to do to help us win games. Regardless of how many points I score, how many rebounds and assists, I have to defend.”