May 10th, 2013
GAME 3: Thunder at Grizzlies

It’s not always easy to do, but one habit of highly performing teams is the ability to focus on only what it can control.

In an NBA Playoff series, especially a physical, intense one like the Thunder’s current second round battle with the Memphis Grizzlies, that high level of concentration is critical. Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club is tied 1-1 in the series as it heads to Memphis for Games Three and Four, but the teams only concern will be collectively attacking areas of concern, namely turnovers and defensive rebounding. Most of all, after three days between games, the Thunder is geared up and ready to get back on the floor against an opponent to demonstrate what it has learned from Games One and Two and worked on in practice.

“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Brooks said. “We’re ready to go out to Memphis and play a basketball game. We know what we have to do and we’re excited about the challenge.”

“We’re going there to try to win Game Three,” Brooks continued. “That’s always been our focus - worrying about each game. Our guys have thrived having that mentality all year long.”

With the chance to return to the Western Conference Finals awaiting the winner of the series, it could be tempting for both teams to look ahead to what is on the horizon. Fortunately for the Thunder, its locker room is filled with veterans and players who understand the need for attention to detail and patience with the process. Kevin Durant has guided the Thunder to a run to the NBA Finals and another trip to the Western Conference Finals over the past few years, so the core of the team realizes just how crucial it is to stay in the moment.

“It’s just making the conscious decision to do so,” 17-year NBA veteran Derek Fisher said. “It’s just about us staying in the moment and realizing that there isn’t anything that we can control right now other than the game on Saturday… It’s all about just playing on Saturday and putting ourselves in position to try to get a good win.”

Game Three tips off at 4:00pm CT in Memphis on Saturday, and once the ball is tipped off, the game will simply be about who operates its own gameplan at a higher level. It always starts with defense for the Thunder, but on the offensive end, Durant and his teammates want to continue living by the same principles that allowed it to be one of the best offensive teams in the NBA this season. Through unselfishness, ball movement and an aggressive tempo, the Thunder wants to impose its style on the game.

“We just have to continue to move the ball,” Durant said. “I think we’re doing a really good job of moving it. We just have to finish shots. That’s it. We work so hard at it - shooting good shots and finding shots we want to get in our offense. It’s just a matter of us finishing the plays now.”

If Brooks’ squad can create the same types of open looks it has gotten through the first two games of the series, the team is confident that those shots will start falling at a higher clip. The Thunder was one of the best shooting teams in the league during the season, so stepping up and knocking down jumpers is in its DNA. In order to come away with a win in Game Three, the Thunder will have to do that throughout the 48 minutes. It seems that the Thunder and Grizzlies are bound for close finishes in this series, so it will be paramount that Brooks’ club sets up its opponent throughout the game in order to keep Memphis guessing when the game gets down to crunch time.

“We’ve been through a lot here as far as close games and executing plays well and not doing them so well,” Durant said. “We know what we have to do. I think if we run stuff hard in the first, second and third quarters, it opens stuff up for us in the fourth.”

Most of all, the factor that will determine if the Thunder puts itself in position to win on Saturday afternoon will be the level of energy, effort and intensity it brings. Those are all staples of the Thunder’s program since it arrived in Oklahoma City five years ago, but in a high-pressure Playoff series like this one against a formidable opponent, the Thunder’s attention to detail, communication and will to win must be at its highest levels.

“It’ll be important, especially with an afternoon game tomorrow, for us to basically wake up with our pads on,” Fisher said. “(We have to be) ready to go out there and hit and be ready to play a physical basketball game.”