Defensive Energy and Effort Central Focus Tonight

The first few minutes of a game don’t seal the fate of a team each night, but it can be a major factor in dictating the style and pace of the night.

The Thunder ranks fourth in the NBA in point differential in the first quarter this season, and tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club will be looking to be the aggressor, starting on the defensive end. If the Thunder can force the 76ers into a tough shooting quarter to start the game, it can set the tone for the rest of the game.

“We have to start the game with a defensive mindset,” Brooks said. “That always works out well for us going into the next three quarters… We’re going to focus in and lock in to be more of a complete defensive team.”

Led by defensive anchor Kendrick Perkins and perimeter stopper Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder’s starting unit is full of physical, intense defenders. Russell Westbrook locks in on opposing ball-handlers, Kevin Durant has continued to use his length to deny shooters easy looks, and Serge Ibaka’s prowess as a rim protector leaves opponents a difficult test. It is up to the Thunder to have all five guys playing cohesively, starting with the jump ball.

“Everybody has to be on the same page,” Durant said. “We can’t come out too relaxed at the start of the game. We have to come out and throw the first punch… Coach (Brooks) was really good today in coming in here and getting after us.”

The defensive principles laid out by Brooks and his coaching staff every day in practice is a process that the Thunder tries to execute on each and every possession. Pressuring the ball to force the opponent to start its set late in the shot clock, keeping themselves between their man and the basket, then forcing a difficult, low-percentage shot. The final step in the process is to box out and grab the defensive rebound, which can kick-start the Thunder’s offense.

“(We want to) start the game off with some toughness on the defensive end and make sure if they do make shots, it’s over a hand and it’s not easy buckets around the basket,” Brooks said. “No offensive rebounds. If we can do that, we feel our offense can score points off of our defense.”

While that process on the defensive end seems simple enough in writing, when it comes to executing that against opposing players in the best basketball league in the world, it’s not quite so easy. As a result, the Thunder won’t have perfect possessions or stretches of the game, but as long as it continues to play with the correct mindset and remain level-headed, its principles will help them be successful.

“It’s a long season,” Brooks said. “There are a lot of ups and downs that you have to fight through both ways. You can’t get overconfident, you can’t get too down. We’ve always managed to handle that very well during a long season. It’s also an exciting season because you have so many opportunities to do well and perform well and improve as a team.”

As for tonight’s match-up against the 76ers, who the Thunder is playing for the second and final time this season, Durant and his teammates are more concerned with its own internal standards of play. Brooks and his staff know that 76ers Head Coach Doug Collins will have his team ready to play tough, hard-nosed basketball for a full 48 minutes, and it is simply up to the Thunder to do the same, playing its own style and taking it to Philadelphia early.

“To be honest, we’re just focused on us,” Durant said. “Our shoot around today was just on us and what we can be better at on the defensive end. Starting games, that’s what we really focused on. We know they’ve been playing well.”