Versatile Thunder Capable of Switching Gears

Come Playoff time, teams must be flexible and versatile while also sticking to its principles.

The way that Head Coach Scott Brooks’ roster has been assembled, there are plenty of options up to go with depending on matchups, game situations and pace of the game. After the Thunder closed out its first round series-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night, it immediately switched gears to prepare for Sunday afternoon’s Game One of the second round against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Rockets played an up-tempo, small-ball style, while Memphis is a slower-paced, traditional basketball team. In the span of 36 hours, the Thunder must be ready to face a very different opponent.

“That’s Playoff basketball,” Brooks said. “You have to be able to play against different styles of play. You have to have that within your own game, and we have that. We can play many different ways and we do that. That’s part of who we are.”

Fortunately for the Thunder, the team is chock full of veterans like Nick Collison, Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins, along with four-time All-Star Kevin Durant, who have been through these types of transitions before. Going from facing a team over the past two weeks that played only one, if any traditional big men to matching up against the Grizzlies who will have big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph on the floor at the same time, the Thunder knows it must be able to prepare and be physically ready in a timely manner. The confidence this team has in itself to do exactly that stems from the variety of players on the team and the diverse skill set up and down the roster.

“They couldn’t be a more different style of play,” Collison said of Memphis compared to Houston. “We try to be a team that can defend yet has the talent to be able to play up-tempo also and to match good perimeter players. We pride ourselves on that to be able to play any style. Now we have to prove that we can actually do it.”

“This is like night and day,” Durant added. “We have guys that can do both. That’s the good part about our team. We have guys who can bang down low with the big guys then run out in transition with the little guys. We really have to help each other out this series. We have to do a great job of rebounding, not turning the ball over and helping the bigs out.”

While the Thunder had to pay extra attention to the perimeter players that Houston threw on the floor in the first round, Brooks’ squad will be supremely concerned with the Grizzlies’ interior players starting on Sunday. Memphis is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, so it will be on the Thunder to box out strongly and rebound as a team. Not only will big men like Collison have to be at their best, but guards like Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher will also be counted upon to dive down into the paint and grab loose defensive rebounds.

“You have to be able to gang rebound with them because the bigs, a lot of times, are in wrestling matches,” Collison said. “They can’t get free to get the ball, so a lot of times, you’re trying to cancel out one of their bigs. We need perimeter guys to come in and clean up rebounds... That’s probably the key to the series to do well enough on the back board that they aren’t killing us with extra possessions and extra shots.”

Beyond the tactical adjustments, lineup adjustments and situational decisions that will have to be made throughout each game and the entire series, what is most important for the Thunder is the attitude with which it must play. In Game 6 against the Rockets the Thunder showed its defensive pride and intensity and that type of effort, energy and verve is something Durant and his teammates want to display from the opening tip Sunday afternoon at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“Just doing what we do as an organization, which is going out and playing for the love of the game,” Durant said.