Thunder Energized, Pumped Up by Home Crowd

Kevin Martin experienced it for the first time on Friday night. So did Hasheem Thabeet, Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb.

When new players step on the floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena, they feel that 18,203 person hug that players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have experienced over their four seasons in Oklahoma City. Last season the Thunder racked up a 26-7 record at home, good for third best in the NBA, and this season it is a point of emphasis to reward their loyal Oklahomans with victories at “The ‘Peake”.

“We want to win in front of our home crowd,” Durant said. “That’s our goal every time we step on the floor at Chesapeake (Energy Arena). The fans deserve it, so we have to bring it every single minute, and I think we will.”

While the fans can boost the teams energy during positive stretches to enhance the momentum or pull the Thunder out of a tough stretch by rallying them on, it is up to the five guys on the court to exude maximum effort. That has always been a staple of Head Coach Scott Brooks’ program in Oklahoma City, and leaders like Durant, Westbrook, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins help elicit that spirited play out of their teammates on a nightly basis.

“We’re a good team because we play hard and we play with great effort and energy,” Brooks said. “We’re a team that should do that. We have a group of guys that understand that is what we do to be successful. Our home crowd has always been good and we seem to always take advantage of that...We just have to focus in and lock in on the defensive end.”

As Brooks said, that energetic, active approach starts on the defensive end. Facing the 1-2 Toronto Raptors tonight, there are multiple players to watch, but one stands out immediately – point guard Kyle Lowry. The seventh-year guard is leading the Raptors in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals through the first three games of the season. It will be up to the Thunder’s perimeter defenders, namely Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Eric Maynor and Kevin Martin, to keep Lowry out of the paint.

“They’re good,” Brooks said. “Lowry is doing everything…He’s a really, really good point guard and we have to really pay attention to him. We can’t let him get loose in transition. He’s fast, he’s aggressive, he’s determined to get to the bucket.”

The Raptors point guard is aided by two skilled forwards, DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani. The duo is averaging a combined 32 points per game so far this season, but wing stoppers like Sefolosha and Durant will be charged with handling DeRozan,with stalwart forwards Serge Ibaka, Collison and Perkins taking on the Bargnani challenge.

“Bargnani is one of the best shooting bigs in this league and he has a great shot fake,” Brooks said. “So we have to stay down on all of his shots. We have to get out to his three point range. It seems like sometimes it’s three or four feet behind the three. They have a good offensive team and coach Casey does a good job of working on the defensive fundamentals.”

So far this season the Thunder is holding its opponents to 43 percent shooting from the floor, while also out-rebounding other teams by nearly four boards per game and blocking a remarkable eight shots per contest. The defensive end of the floor is always the focal point for the Thunder, however, the team hopes to get more stops, force more turnovers and box out stronger starting early tonight against Toronto.

“We talked about that we have to get off to a defensive start,” Brooks said. “We’re playing against one of the best teams in the league at first quarter points. We understand that, so the pressure is going to be on us to do a good job of stopping them and containing them and keeping them out of the paint and keeping their shooters at bay. That’s the challenge. I think our guys are excited about this challenge tonight.”