Entire Team to be Tested vs. Denver

It takes every man on the roster and every second of the shot clock to complete a full defensive effort. Tonight against the Denver Nuggets, the Thunder wants to use both.

Coming to Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight, the Nuggets play with the second fastest pace in the league while also ranking first in field goals made, second in rebounds, third in assists and third in total points. The strength of the team comes from a balanced attack that features nine different players who average eight-or-more points per game. That’s why Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club knows that it will take a full team effort on both ends of the floor to be successful.

“We know that we have to defend,” Brooks said. “We have to get back. Our first line of defense is making sure that we don’t turn it over, and getting a good shot. If you don’t do those two things, they get out with numbers, and they’re hard to stop.”

As Brooks noted, the speed and tempo with which Denver coach George Karl’s team plays is difficult to account for. In fact, the Nuggets also lead the league in fast break points, points in the paint and second chance points, in addition to ranking second in points off turnovers.

Not only does the Thunder have to contend with players like Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala in the first unit, the Nuggets present a challenge in the second unit with explosive athletes like Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer.

As a result, Brooks’ bench will be relied upon to play its typical brand of tough defense against the third-highest scoring bench in the league while also keeping the scoreboard moving.

Thunder leaders Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook often both spend time with the second unit spanning the bridges between the first and second and third and fourth quarters. Durant said that tonight he wants to be assertive when he comes back into the lineup with the second group.

“I just have to go out there and be aggressive from the beginning,” Durant said. “We like our defense and like what our defense brings. If we can get back in transition and limit our turnovers, we like our half-court defense.”

While getting back in transition will be ultra-important, the Thunder’s offense can also be a great weapon against Denver’s quick attack style. Making the Nuggets pull the ball out of the basket instead of getting out into the open court off a turnover or a missed shot can make a massive difference. For all of Denver’s statistical advantages, the Thunder’s offense is just as potent, ranking first in total points, third in field goal percentage and first in scoring differential thanks to great execution.

“Executing is always important, and we’ve done a good job throughout the year of doing that,” Brooks said. “Executing and finding a good shot. We’ve had some good games and we’ve shot the ball well pretty much all year… That helps, when you make shots, they don’t get an opportunity to run as much.”

Denver hopes to start its offense or get a shot in the first half of the shot clock. Forcing its opponent to in-bound the ball then enter in a half-court set can be considered an early win on a possession for the Thunder, when it can use the shot clock to its advantage. As if it were a sixth defender, the shot clock causes extra strain on an offense working in the half-court to find a shot. By utilizing solid team defensive concepts, the Thunder hopes to create its ideal tempo tonight.

“If we can make them play half-court,” Brooks said. “We did a good job of making them play late in the shot clock. That’s always been the key with a lot of teams. You make teams play late in the shot clock, you have a better chance for them to miss the basket.”