Thunder Seeks Defensive Consistency

CHICAGO -- Over the years as the Thunder has grown and its young leaders have developed, there continues to be a noticeable emphasis in a certain aspect of the game – consistency.

From the seriousness with which each practice, film session and shoot around is taken to the concentration level on the court during each night’s game, the Thunder works daily to improve its consistency. The most important area of the game to have that steadiness from game-to-game is on the defensive end, which is something Head Coach Scott Brooks wants his team to display starting early and often tonight against the Chicago Bulls.

“We have to have that mindset, the defensive toughness has to be from the start of the game,” Brooks said. “We can’t build that throughout the game, when you do that you put yourself in a tough position to win. We want to start the game with that mindset, there’s no question. That’s how we play, that’s when we’re at our best when we do that.”

Even newcomers like Kevin Martin have sensed the hunger with which the Thunder attacks each practice session in attempts to improve, particularly on defense. When players get hands in the passing lanes, pressure the ball handler and properly cover the pick-and-roll, the Thunder has the opportunity to be a very difficult team to score against. Martin and his teammates understand that being able to play that consistently-high level of defense on a nightly basis will be critical.

“That’s the most important part,” Martin said. “We have it on the offense. Like the other night (against Toronto). If we come out with that intensity and effort every night, we’re going to be tough to stop.”

On Tuesday in the Thunder’s home win over the Raptors, Brooks’ club held Toronto to 17 first quarter points and only 38 total in the first half, while holding them to 35.7 percent shooting throughout the night. That was only one game, but Brooks hopes his squad can replicate the intensity, focus and effort that he saw on Tuesday every single night – starting with the opening tip and throughout all four quarters.

“It’s definitely important to get off to a good start,” Brooks said. “I tell the guys they should always get off to a good energy start. It’s tough to make shots consistently, but the effort should always be there consistently. We’ve always been a team that has always done that.”

The Thunder’s challenge will be a much different one tonight in a road contest in Chicago. Head Coach Tom Thibadeau runs a program that regularly features one of the stingiest defenses in all of the NBA, and on offense the Bulls look to its front line of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah to do the heavy lifting. Martin, a veteran in his ninth season in the NBA, has seen his fair share of the challenge the Bulls present.

“We know they’re going to play hard, they’re going to run every cut hard,” Martin said. “They have a great defensive system. We just have to match that effort and intensity and just worry about us once again.”

It’s still early in the season so the sample sizes are small, but the Thunder’s and Bulls’ defenses are neck-and-neck in terms of field goal percentage allowed, both hovering around 41 percent. The Thunder has also been tough against three point shooting teams, allowing opponents to shoot only 29 percent from deep. With both teams surrendering below 93 points per game to opponents through four games this season, Brooks and his staff knows tonight will be a defensive struggle.

“The Bulls are very good, there are a bunch of things that they do well,” Brooks said. “They play extremely hard. Their offense is run with great execution, they set great screens. Their bigs are very skilled, they’re defense is sound… They don’t give a lot of easy buckets and they contest shots. They’re one of the best teams in basketball and coach Thibadeau does a good job with the group.”

With toughness, laser-sharp focus and defensive intensity for a full 48 minutes, the Thunder welcomes that challenge and hopes to bring a win home from Chicago before Friday night’s clash against the Detroit Pistons at Chesapeake Energy Arena.