April 22th, 2013
GAME 2: Thunder vs Rockets

In Sunday night’s 120-91 victory over the Houston Rockets, the job the Thunder did on defense stood out the most.

On second glance, the Thunder’s offensive performance and execution was just as impressive. En route to an even 60 points in each half, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team was methodical yet aggressive, unselfish yet attacking. By racking up 28 assists, the Thunder spread the wealth on the offensive end, allowing eight players to score eight-or-more points. That balanced attack gave the Rockets fits, and gave the Thunder a 1-0 edge in the first round Playoff series.

"The ball was really moving," Brooks said. "When we have an open man, you have to pass the ball to the open man. Russell (Westbrook), he almost had a triple-double in the first half. His ball movement, his rebounding and ability to get to the basket was very good for us last night. Everybody was passing, everybody was getting involved and getting down in their offensive positions early."

The luxury the Thunder has with Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson as primary ball-handlers and creators is that even when teams like the Rockets trap up top, the team is able to find someone to attack and make a play. By using screens from big men like Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, all season long the Thunder has been able to create advantage situations, even in the half-court. Those brief three-on-twos and two-on-ones on a certain side of the floor give the Thunder a chance to simply make the easy pass and convert.

"The biggest part is making the extra pass," Westbrook said. "I think guys did a great job of committing two guys then making the pass to the open guy."

The primary beneficiaries of the Thunder’s ability to attack, draw defenders and then hit teammates on cuts or flare outs to the wings or elbows have been the big men. Ibaka racked up 17 points on an efficient 7-for-11 shooting, while Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison combined for 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting. The range Ibaka has developed on his jump shot has created an added dimension for the Thunder, and it gives playmakers yet another option in their progression of finding the open man and making the right play.

"It’s something we’ve been talking about during the season and it’s something we’re focused on, getting better as a team and moving the ball on offense," Ibaka said. "We know what we’re looking for. We know what we need and why we’re here. Of course, for us, we just try to be us, be aggressive and get better. We know not everything will be perfect, but we’ll do the best we can."

It’s been noticeable throughout the season when Thunder players, as a unit, forget about their individual output and lose themselves in the flow of the team game. It was clear that each Thunder player attempted to attack, drive-and-kick to the open man all Sunday night, and it created simple catch-and-shoot opportunities for perimeter players. Kevin Martin finished with 16 points thanks to that ball movement, and Derek Fisher was 3-for-4 from the three-point line en route to nine points. In order for the Thunder to win Game Two, it will be essential for the team to play with the same fluidly and unselfishly.

"I think we did try to make as many of the right plays as we possibly could," Fisher said. "We’ll have to continue to do that, even if we have a night where the ball doesn’t go in as much as it did last night. You still have to trust that by making the right basketball play, things will balance themselves out. That’s something, as a team, we’re continuing to grow into and develop. That will be important for us to be successful."

The Thunder knows that just because it took a 1-0 lead in the series over the Rockets, there is still plenty of basketball to be played. Game Two, stylistically, might be quite different than Game One, so the Thunder spent Monday looking over film of where it can improve. On Tuesday the team will hit the practice floor to be completely geared up for Wednesday’s tilt. Just like their fast breaks, the Thunder is going to keep its foot down on the pedal.

"The best thing about this team is that we’re focused on what the task at hand is," Westbrook said.