Adjusting, Decision-Making Key on Every Possession
Throughout the course of a game, like tonight’s home tilt against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder will have to be focused on each possession and how it can play it to the best of its ability to be successful. Fortunately with leaders like Kevin Durant, Head Coach Scott Brooks and his staff have great players to work with to make changes and strategic alterations from half-to-half, quarter-to-quarter and possession-to-possession. The Thunder will need to do that tonight against a surging Lakers squad.
“This game is about adjustments and how you can do it throughout a game,” Durant said. “We have a great coaching staff that knows the game of basketball and knows what we need to do to be in a good position to win. It’s on the players to go out and execute.”
One of the keys throughout the season for the Thunder in being able to execute and make decisions on the fly has been the steadiness of point guard Russell Westbrook. As evidenced by Sunday afternoon’s late game confidence and calmness as the Thunder snatched the lead back from the Clippers at the Staples Center, Westbrook has his hand on the pulse of his team. By making three straight plays on the offensive end to bust the Clippers’ zone defense, Westbrook led a late charge to regain control of the game for the Thunder. That’s something Westbrook has been specializing in all season.
“His leadership, his ability to control the game and manage the game is improving every game,” Brooks said. “I thought last game was one of his best performances considering who he was playing against, who we were playing against and on their floor in a crazy environment… He just kept doing his job at a very consistent level, just from being a point guard, team leadership and managing the guys and players.”
Not only has his presence been a guiding force for the Thunder, his voice in the huddle and his play on the court has stood out, particularly recently. Since the beginning of February Westbrook is shooting 50.8 percent from the floor, a remarkable number for a guard, and has racked up 25.3 points, 7.1 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting 46.7 percent since the start of 2013. That high level of performance, along with the way he seemingly holds the strings of the Thunder squad has impressed his fellow All-Star, Durant.
“He’s been a leader all season for us,” Durant said. “He’s vocal. He’s keeping the game composed and everybody on our team, keeping us poised. He’s controlling the game from both ends of the floor. He’s was great and he’s been great all season. We need another one of those games from him tonight.”
Not only has Westbrook been a catalyst on the offensive end, he’s the first line of defense on the other end of the floor. That’s where Brooks’ squad hangs its hat, and going into tonight’s matchup against the Lakers, his team knows that it must make extra efforts on the perimeter, be physical in the paint and aggressive on the wings. By preventing easy passes into the post and pressuring the ball, the Thunder hopes to force turnovers and difficult possessions throughout the night.
“We have to use our quickness and our ability to attack the basketball and get in the passing lanes and close up angles,” Brooks said. “That’s what we have to do. We’ve had some success doing that, but we have to continue to do it tonight. They’re playing much better.”
While it won’t be an easy task considering the 30-30 Lakers are playing at perhaps their highest level of the season and the trio of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard are humming along. This is the fourth time this season the Thunder has squared off against the Lakers, so both teams know what to expect. Fortunately for Durant and company, the team will head into tonight’s showdown with the same level of energy, intensity and focus as it does on every night, regardless of opponent.
“We just have to try to make it tough on them all tonight,” Durant said. “Every game from here on out for us and for them is a big game… We’re just going to come out there and do what we do.”