Thunder Learning to Win with Multiple Styles

PHILADELPHIA -- In football, many organizations strive to be an “All-Weather” team, meaning they can win a high-tempo game on a fast surface in a dome or a plodding, physical game in frigid outdoor temperatures.

In the NBA, teams don’t have to deal with varying weather elements during games, but one thing the Thunder has continued to develop is its ability to win games in multiple different ways. Whether it be the fast-break style with which the Thunder beat the Denver Nuggets in overtime on Feb. 19 or the half-court, slow-tempo victory over the Los Angeles Lakers four nights later, the Thunder is becoming a team that can execute in all sorts of basketball environments.

“It’s something that we take pride in getting better every day,” Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “To win different ways in this league, it’s important. There are a lot of good teams that play different styles of games that you have to be able to compete and attack and have success against.”

Part of the Thunder’s continued improvement in having the mental energy to play situational basketball and execute game plans has also come with increasing self-awareness. For a relatively young basketball team that features nine players 25 years old or younger, veterans like Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed have helped the Thunder identify its own personality and manner of playing, while also adapting to opponent matchups and situations. This ability will be crucial during the second half of the season, starting tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I think we’re a team that can play different ways, we can really push it up tempo, that’s our style,” forward Kevin Durant said. “But I think we can play a half-court game as well. Tonight is going to be a tough one for us. This team plays very, very well here at home, and they can mix it up as well. They have a lot of weapons. We have to be prepared.”

As with most things for the Thunder, its ability to get out in transition and push tempo stems from its effort in the half-court on defense. Since the arrival of Perkins, the Thunder’s defensive intensity has only increased, and that overall team focus has led to more fast-break buckets, more missed shots by opponents and higher percentage looks on offense for the Thunder, thanks to the secondary fast break and big men running the floor. When the team settles into half-court offense, however, it has continued to develop its pick-and-roll game to be one of the most efficient offenses in the league.

“It’s something that we pride ourselves on, we can play different ways and have success,” Brooks said. “We’ve been very good in transition, we’re a good defensive team. We score off of our defense and we’ve improved in our half court. I don’t know what the numbers say without transition and offensive put-backs, but I have a feeling we’re probably top six or seven in the league in field goal percentage.”

Tonight against the Doug Collins-led 76ers, the Thunder will have to be opportunistic on defense against a disciplined 76ers team that rarely turns the ball over. On offense, they’ll likely need to utilize its growing ability to execute half-court sets and utilize screens from everyone on the court to set up open teammates for jump shots or cuts into the lane for easy buckets. Philadelphia is in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, and boasts a league-best 87.5 points per game allowed this season.

“They’re playing well,” Durant said. “I think they had a big win last night (against the Detroit Pistons) that kind of shifted things for them after losing three or four in a row. We have to be ready for a team that is going to come to play tonight and bring their best against us. We’re looking forward to that. It’s going to be fun to get the second half of the season started against a great team.”