Pick and Roll Defense Key for Thunder vs. Rockets

HOUSTON -- The Thunder prides itself on the defensive end, but also packs one of the post potent punches on the offensive end in the NBA.

Tonight against the Houston Rockets, it will meet another team that can put the ball in the hoop with ease in the Houston Rockets. Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club ranks third in the NBA in points per game at 105.0, but the Rockets rank first at 105.7 points per game, which they get on 45.4 percent shooting and 35.8 percent shooting from the three-point line. It will put the Thunder’s defense to the test in all facets of the game.

“They score the basketball and they shoot threes,” Brooks said. “They run a lot of pick and rolls. We have to be ready to guard it all. If you don’t they’re going to put a lot of points on the board… They’re an offensive team and we have to focus on all parts of our defense.”

In fact, the Rockets scored 116 points against the Spurs in San Antonio on Friday night despite turning the ball over 24 times and missing 11 free throws. As Brooks explained, a team that can put up that kind of point total regardless of the turnovers and misses at the line is an extremely potent one on the offensive end.

The Rockets rank second in the NBA in both three-pointers made and three-pointers attempted, but its offense starts up top with a pick-and-roll. That means for the Thunder, its guards like Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha will have to work fluidly with big men like Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka on defending the screen and trapping the ball handler to prevent dribble penetration.

“We have to make sure we do a great job in the pick-and-roll and try to keep them outside the paint and keep them off the offensive glass and then go from there,” Perkins said.

“I think we have to be aggressive a lot more than we’d normally be,” Perkins continued. “Every night we need to start being more aggressive in the trap making the guards take a back dribble back to half court. I think that will help our defense a lot.”

Another aspect of the Rockets’ scoring the Thunder must be cognizant of is its penchant for getting out and running in transition. Most teams in the NBA try to get out and run, using the open space on the floor to create advantage situations. The Rockets are no different, and in fact score the most points out of any team in the fast break. The Thunder must be precise in its offensive sets, protect the ball and make the Rockets set up traditional half-court offense.

“It helps if we make some baskets and they have to take it out of the net,” Brooks said. “This is a team that if we turn the ball over it’s a layup, it’s a three on two opportunity for a three for them. We cannot turn the ball over. But we have to get back. We have to take advantage of our offensive rebounding, but we have to be disciplined.”

That measured approach on offense is one the Thunder has been working on for some time now, and it is showing by an improvement in assist totals and even offensive rebounds. Perkins explained that when the Thunder runs through its offensive sets and executes its offense, even missed shots become better because the opportunities for teammates to crash the offensive boards are higher. Tonight the Thunder will need to compromise getting back in transition defense while also trying to create second chances for itself.

“We’re taking better shots,” Perkins said. “When you get a chance to run your offense it gives everybody an opportunity to get to the glass… We’re starting to run our offense to our second and third option more, which is giving us a chance and making their defense have to rotate and be out of position. So it gives us a chance to crash the boards.”