GAME PREVIEW

mailbag@thunder-nba.com
April 23rd, 2013
GAME 2: Thunder vs Rockets

Experience is valuable to lean on in the Playoffs, but the Thunder knows it still has to go out and execute.

On Tuesday, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team practiced at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center for the second straight day as it heads into tomorrow night’s Game Two against the Houston Rockets. Game One of the first round Playoff series went the Thunder’s way to the tune of 120-91, but every player gave high energy and effort in practice in order to be better Wednesday night in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“Today’s practice was outstanding,” Brooks said. “I thought our focus was good, our intensity level was very high. We got a few things that we wanted to get accomplished on how we can keep improving as a team going into Game Two.”

This is the fourth straight season that the Thunder has been in the NBA Playoffs, and the core of the team has played 44 Playoff games together during that span. Especially considering the youth of players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka who form that core, the Thunder is made up of a developing yet experienced group of players. With that in mind, leaders on the team know to never take a Playoff opportunity for granted.

“It’s a blessing that we’re playing here,” Durant said. “It’s not a guarantee that we’re going to be here every single year… We just want to come out and enjoy the process, embrace it all, play as hard as we can and have no regrets.”

One way the Thunder can prove that it doesn’t take any Playoff moment lightly is by replicating the same defensive pressure and concentration from Sunday night again on Wednesday night. In fact, Brooks and his staff compiled a number of clips in the team’s film session to point out areas where the Thunder can improve upon for the next game.

In fact, coaches and players alike stopped the tape to single out certain aspects of the game. It’s the collective mentality to forget about the past and only focus on what the team can control that shows the strong mindset the Thunder has heading into Game Two.

“Put the first game behind us and move forward,” Brooks said. “We’ve done that all year. That philosophy is not going to change. We’ve watched film the last couple of days. Going into tomorrow night’s game we just have to focus on what we have to do well to put ourselves in a position to win.”

In fact, as experience in the Playoffs has taught the Thunder, Game Two could end up being very different from Game One both in terms of outcome but also style. Over the years the Thunder has seen the second home game of a series be played at a different pace, tempo and rhythm, so it comes into the game knowing that it must try to dictate the flow in Game Two. With the always boisterous Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd behind it, the Thunder wants to use its preparation and experience to help it execute on both ends of the floor early.

“Every game is different,” Durant said. “We know this team is going to come out with a lot of energy on both ends of the floor. We have to match it. Our building is going to be rocking. We have to feed off of that as well. We had a great two days of practice. We’re focused and we’re locked in.”

Many of the team’s goals from Game One are still applicable to Game Two. It is imperative that the Thunder gets back in transition after both makes and misses in order to show a wall of defenders against attacking Rockets guards. Houston is one of, if not the best fast break team in the NBA, so making sure their opportunities are limited in that aspect will be crucial.

The Thunder itself had the second best field goal percentage defense in the league this season, which only grew stronger when the team was set in the half-court. With the mentality veterans like Nick Collison have helped build not only this week but the course of the season, the Thunder hopes to use its defensive prowess and communication to play the best it possibly can on each possession.

“That’s going to be a big focus for us, to change ends of the floor, switch from offense to defense quickly and get matched up,” Collison said. “We know that each game is its own thing. It’s over now and a clean slate for Game Two. Experience helps us with that. We’re preparing for another difficult game.”

“We know what these games mean and how important they are,” Collison said. “We’re not buying into any storylines or anything outside of this building. We’ll be ready to go at tip-off tomorrow.”