Team Defense, Efficient Shots Key Against Clippers

In the NBA, a stretch of four games in five nights in three different cities is complemented by the Thunder having just tonight’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers with three free nights surrounding it. That’s the nature of the NBA schedule, but win or lose the Thunder maintains consistency in work ethic, purpose and commitment to the task at hand.

Even a player like Kevin Martin, who has been with the team for less than a month, can see the internal standards the Thunder has set for itself manifested in its practices, shoot-arounds and film sessions.

“Everybody just comes in and does their job every day,” Martin said. "There is no funny business. We’re here as a team… I just want to take advantage of this opportunity to play with a great group of guys and a great coaching staff that knows the game very well and just enjoy this family atmosphere.”

While the effort, energy and hard work is consistent in each practice, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ Thunder squad will naturally perform better in some areas than others on a given night. For example, recently the Thunder has been shooting the lights out from three-point land, making 27 of 49 three pointers over the past two games – good for 55.1 percent.

For the season, the Thunder leads the NBA in three-point shooting at 43.5 percent per game, including a league-best 52.3 percent mark from the ever-efficient corner three spot. In fact, Martin and Thabo Sefolosha (the most frequent beneficiaries of a Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook drive-and-dish into the corner) are shooting a combined 20-for-31 on corner threes this season, an electric 64.5 percent.

“It’s huge, the power of the three-ball has always been important,” Brooks said. “We’ve been improving in that area the past few years. It’s good to see that we’re continuing to do that. We’re passing the ball much better… They’re getting good shots. That’s the key. If we get good shots, our feet are set, the ball is moving with those swing passes, we can knock those down at a pretty good number.”

Against the Clippers tonight, the Thunder offense will look to maximize the opportunities to hit those high-percentage looks from the three-point line. Most of all, however, Brooks’ squad will focus on the defensive end, where its main focus is every single night. The Clippers present a unique challenge because of the play-making ability of Chris Paul and the athletes Vinny Del Negro can bring into the game in both the starting lineup and off the bench.

“They’re good in transition, that’s the thing that they’ve done more this year,” Brooks said. “They get to the free throw line. They score in the paint. Those are the things that we have to take away. Those are the things that are not easy to take away because they have some dynamic athletes that can get into the paint and get to the basket.”

The Clippers have five players with double figure scoring averages, and thanks to Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe, they also boast the highest scoring bench unit in the NBA so far this season. With Martin’s 17.6 points per game coming off the bench for the Thunder, Brooks’ unit is potent as well, but the Thunder will need to account for every man on the Clippers roster tonight. By taking a wide-lens look at the Clippers as a whole, Martin and his Thunder teammates hope to slow down the Clippers’ attack.

“It doesn’t matter who comes in the game, just keep it with whatever your plan is that night,” Martin said. “Tonight our plan is keeping their bigs off the rim, no lob dunks, no easy layups. Make them shoot free throws and outside jumpers… We’re just focused on them as a whole.”

Throughout an NBA season, being able to shut down opposing offenses is crucial, and for any team finding consistency on the defensive end is a perpetual process. For the Thunder, who added new pieces into the second unit like Martin, Hasheem Thabeet and a pair of rookies in Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb, there is a constant emphasis to find a defensive rhythm as a unit. That process continues tonight against the Clippers, when it will be tested from all angles.

“It’s just knowing where you have to be in your spots,” Martin said. “Here they have a pretty simple system where everybody tries to help everybody. It’s a process right now, but we’ll get the results.”