Thunder Contests Shots, Spaces the Floor

Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks has plenty of things to take pride in about his team, but one area rises above the rest.

Sure, the Thunder has the second best record in the NBA, ranks first in point differential, free throw shooting and total points and second in blocked shots and three-point percentage, but the thing he and his players are most proud of is that the team ranks second in field goal percentage defense. By rotating in help-side defense, communicating with one another and making extra efforts to get out to shooters, the Thunder defense led by Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant finds ways to force missed shots. Tonight against the Miami Heat, that principled and disciplined defensive formula will be essential to victory.

“I’m really proud of how we make the second effort on plays,” Durant said. “It’s easy to stop a guy for the first few dribbles or one pass, but how we continue to move on the third or fourth pass and scramble out, we have to do a really good job of that tonight. We know our defensive concepts, we’ve been doing it for four years. We have to trust in it and stick with it.”

Westbrook starts things on the defensive end on each possession by pressuring the ball and forcing opponents to get off their rhythm and start their offensive sets late in shot clock. Thabo Sefolosha sticks with his man on the wing, and along the back line, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins protect the paint and force difficult two-point attempts. The key to every Thunder defensive possession is to make sure its opponent doesn’t get any clean, high-percentage looks at the rim.

“We take pride in our defense, there’s no question,” Brooks said. “We are second in the league. We definitely want to get to number one… We’re a defensive team first and then we score off our defense. We have some great defenders, guys who are committed to that end. All five of our guys defend, and that’s what makes us a good team.”

There’s a bit of a blueprint to the way the Thunder wants to play on each night, and the players who have helped define the internal standards of the Thunder program – Westbrook, Durant and Nick Collison- aid teammates in understanding that gameplan. After a stingy defensive possession, the thunder concentrates on boxing out and getting a defensive rebound that can turn into a transition opportunity.

Once in the halfcourt on offense, the Thunder tries to spread the floor, attack the paint and dish the ball to the open man. Using its athleticism, the Thunder does a nice job of simply making the right basketball play whenever possible. That starts with Westbrook, according to Durant, and extends to the rest of the squad.

“I think we’ve grown a lot in that area,” Durant said. “I think that’s a testament to Russell and Reggie and Thabo, myself and our bigs. We’re doing a really good job of just trusting each other more and more as the games go by.”

“That’s what good teams do,” Durant continued. “Trust in the pass and play together. I think we can do a better job of it of course, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Naturally, the Thunder wants to display all of those characteristics every night against every opponent and because of concentration, communication and a consistent process, Brooks’ team manages to do so at a high level almost every single night. Tonight against the Heat, the challenge to execute on both ends to the best of its ability will be extremely high. With Lebron James and Dwyane Wade leading the Heat, the Thunder knows it has a battle on its hands tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“They have incredible players and they have incredible role players who understand their roles,” Brooks said. “They have shooters all throughout the floor. They spread you out and they have LeBron and Wade, who are able to make plays for themselves and pass.”