Thunder Sticking to Offensive Identity

Bending at the knee and waist, Russell Westbrook stretches his arms wide in his defensive stance, showing the opponent that he will be the first line of defense all night.

On the other end of the floor Westbrook also sets the tone. As the Thunder’s All-Star point guard, Westbrook is charged with a large percentage of the team’s ball-handling duties and is also responsible for attacking the paint and getting the team into its offensive sets.

As the man who in many ways controls the tempo, pace and intensity at the beginning of games and possessions, Westbrook also understands the importance of starting an NBA Playoff series the right way.

“Game One is very important,” Westbrook said. “It gives you control of the series. It gives you an opportunity to set the tone to see how the series is going to turn out.”

Head Coach Scott Brooks’ Thunder squad takes on the Houston Rockets in Game One of the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs on Sunday night in a matchup of two of the most potent offenses in the NBA. Transition and pick-and-roll defense will be at the forefront of the Thunder’s game plan defensively, and on offense it wants to be versatile, intelligent and unselfish, just as it has been all season.

“We have to take care of the ball,” Brooks said. “Just do the things we’ve done all year. Move the ball, get to our spots, execute in the half court set, make sure everybody gets involved and be aggressive. If you have the open shot, you have to shoot it. We’ve worked on those shots all year long.”

Against the Rockets this season, the Thunder is averaging 24.3 assists per game while scoring an incredible 121.0 points per contest on 50.0 percent shooting and 41.8 three-point shooting. However, the two teams combined to average 40.0 combined turnovers per game in the three matchups during the regular season. As Brooks and Westbrook explained, it will be important to protect the ball all series long. Having Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson as fellow ball-handlers, Westbrook has two teammates who can also create off the dribble for themselves or teammates.

“It’s a good advantage for us, especially in the Playoffs,” Westbrook said. “Teams may load up or teams may double. You have somebody to throw the ball to be able to attack and be able to create offense.”

The Thunder will try to use its defense to create offense, then cut hard and screen well in order to execute in the half-court. Players like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, who may not get many shots within the flow of the offense, will be critical components of the offensive gameplan because of their ability to free teammates up with screens and spacing. As the series moves along, Brooks and the coaching staff will identify certain matchups or alignments that they want the team to capitalize upon. In Game One, however, the Thunder will just focus on being itself.

“In a Playoff series you take it game-by-game,” Perkins said. "After Game One, you’ll make adjustments. But going into Game One, we’re just going to be ourselves. It’s kind of a feel out game but we have to make sure we’re in attack mode.”

Playing at Chesapeake Energy Arena ensures that the Thunder will have a wonderful home court advantage on Sunday night. Feeding off of that energy, Brooks’ squad- helmed by Westbrook at the top of the key on both ends of the floor- will just play “Thunder Basketball”. Over the past five seasons the team has developed its own unique brand and basketball identity, which it hopes to put on display for a full 48 minutes.

“Getting out in transition, playing off our defense, making them take tough shots then going down and running our sets,” Westbrook said. “Just play our game. We’ve been there before. We’ve been in the Playoffs. We know what it takes. We know what we have to do as a team.”