Thunder Prepared for Unique Jazz Challenge

SALT LAKE CITY – There’s been a common thread for the Thunder during its four-game winning streak, and that theme is readily apparent to team leaders – defense.

On the season the Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club ranks second in opponent field goal percentage and second in blocked shots and third in points off turnovers and its numbers over the past four games have been equally impressive. In wins over the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns, the Thunder has only allowed 88.5 points per game, with an average margin of victory of 25.3 points. In fact, starters Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins didn’t have to log any fourth quarter minutes during the stretch because of how well the team has played in quarters one through three.

“I just like our defensive intensity,” Durant said. “I like that we’re all on the same page on both ends of the floor. Nobody cares about who scores the points or who gets the rebounds or who gets the assists. It’s all about team for us. That speaks volumes. We’ve come a long way in that area, we just have to keep it up.”

The Thunder’s defense is jumpstarted at the top by Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha, then anchored along the back line with Durant, Perkins and Serge Ibaka. The key to the team’s overall defensive success has been the way it has executed in pick-and-roll defense, as the guards are fighting over screens and the bigs are hedging out to prevent opponents from getting into the lane. Particularly on the backside of the play, the Thunder has also done a nice job of communicating with one another to make stops.

“Our bigs are pretty agile and they’re vocal,” Brooks said. “They anchor our defense and our guys get into the ball. We have guys that enjoy defending. You can’t have one or two, you need all five guys.”

It’s essential to the success of a defensive possession for the man defending the ball to hear from his teammates where the help is coming from and if there is a screener coming towards him. As the team rotates over into help-side defense, the wings and post players communicate with one another to ensure that every man is covered in their second and third defensive efforts.

“We communicate on every type of play,” Durant said. “We just have to continue to do it as a group. Not depend on one guy to be a defensive stopper. We need five guys on one string to be a good defensive team.”

Tonight against the Utah Jazz, the Thunder will need to be tied on a string as Durant explained. With Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors, the Jazz have the ability to pound the paint and hit the glass, then can spread the floor with sharpshooter Randy Foye. All members of the Thunder defense will have to help in the lane on the Jazz’s big men, but be able to get back out to the three-point line to contest jump shots. Then, on the offensive end, the Thunder has to play tough and execute the best way it can.

“They have bigs that can score down low and they’ve always been an inside-outside team,” Brooks said. “Randy (Foye) is able to hit threes. He took eight against us the last time and made four. He has the ability to make shots. They have a good team. They’re well-coached, they play hard and they’re a physical team. They make you earn all of your points.”

If the Thunder can contain the Jazz’s inside attack and prevent easy shots from the outside, it will have an opportunity to continue it’s great run of play as the team tries to play at a high level heading into the All-Star Break. With defense at the forefront, the Thunder will try to put forth another intense, focused effort tonight.

“I like the way we’re playing right now,” Durant said. “We’re moving the ball. Everybody is contributing. We’re playing great defense. We have to try to keep it up.”