Thunder to Bring Disciplined, Focused Defense

The Thunder found out that it would be matched up against the Houston Rockets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Wasting no time, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team got right to work.

With film and practice sessions on Friday, the Thunder expanded on the work it did Thursday afternoon in preparation for the Rockets. Having played eight Playoff series since the organization arrived in Oklahoma City, the Thunder understands the necessary steps in the process for a team attempting to be completely ready. With Game One at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday night, the Thunder used Friday to set the foundation for what it wants to accomplish in Round One.

“I thought our preparation today was very good before practice, our film work, going over the things we feel are important,” Brooks said. “On the court, guys were locked in. They’re really focused on the opportunity ahead. We know that we’re going to have to play well. We’re going to have to continue the habits we built all year long.”

The largest focal point for the Thunder all season has been its defense, and the team has seen increased consistency and effectiveness on that end of the floor all year. By holding its opponents to the second lowest field goal percentage in the NBA all season, the Thunder has managed to force missed shots, turning those stops into offensive opportunities. Leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, along with the help of the coaching staff, hope to ensure that the Thunder continues to be detail-oriented throughout its series against Houston.

“It’s going to be a tough series,” Durant said. “We have to be really locked in on every possession for us to win. We have to do all the small things like getting out to shooters, contesting well, keeping the ball in front of us and helping each other out… Our coaches do a great job of preparing us. It’s all about transferring it out (there).”

The most important aspect of the Thunder’s defensive effort- as Coach Brooks, Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Kevin Martin all confirmed over the past two days- will be to turn and get back in transition defense.

After missed and even made shots on the offensive end, the Thunder must turn and run, then put themselves between the ball and the rim and make the Rockets play half-court offense. Houston likes to push tempo, which created an incredible 107.3 possessions per 48 minutes per team in the Thunder and Rockets’ three regular season games this year.

“It’s going to be really important for us to run back on defense and get set and stick to our principles,” Sefolosha said. “We’re going to try to stay real solid… Keep a tight shell. We need some energy to close out to the three-point shooters and at the same time when they drive to catch that first dribble. When we do that and stay compact and close down the paint, we’re in good shape defensively.”

Controlling the paint, contesting shots, taking the Rockets off the three-point line and keeping the ball in front of them in the pick-and-roll are all focal points for the Thunder defense. In going 2-1 against the Rockets this season, the Thunder was mostly able to accomplish that task by holding Houston to 43.1 percent shooting, forcing 19.7 turnovers per game and out-rebounding them by more than ten-per-game on average. In addition, the Thunder has been able to make aggressive defensive plays, averaging over ten steals and over ten blocks in the teams’ three games this year. Above all, however, Coach Brooks wants his team to play solid, principled and disciplined defense all series long, starting in Game One.

“This is a very talented one-on-one basketball team,” Brooks said. “They can put you in some bad situations if you’re not locked in defensively. You have to have your help defenders ready to help. They want to break you down and get to the basket and shoot threes. We have to make sure we do a good job of preventing those things where they get easy buckets.”