April 29, 2013

HOUSTON – No matter how the games were won, the Thunder has willed itself into position to advance.

Leading its first round Playoff series against the Houston Rockets by a count of 3-0, Head Coach Scott Brooks' squad hit the practice floor at Tudor Fieldhouse at Rice University on Sunday afternoon. After it's thrilling 104-101 victory in Game 3 on Saturday night and in advance of its Game 4 showdown against the Rockets on Monday night, the Thunder went to work to make some adjustments and sharpen its team play in an attempt to close out the series.

"All we're doing is thinking about this next game," Brooks said "We have players that can make adjustments on the fly. We do it all the time in a game, we make adjustments. Practice time is always good for our team."

The Thunder's worth is based off its work, and as a result the team will continue analyzing film, running through drills and going through walk-throughs in order to best prepare itself for Game 4. Up 3-0 against a team with its back against the wall, this young but experienced Thunder team understands this matchup will be the toughest yet. Veteran leaders like Derek Fisher and even the 24-year-old four-time All-Star Kevin Durant have experienced tons of scenarios in the NBA, and outlined how the team has to operate in order to be successful.

"When you have an opportunity to close a team out, it's important to find a way to do so," Fisher said. "It's the NBA, the Rockets aren't going to quit, so it'll be up to us to find a way to win the game."

Coach Brooks emphatically stated that regardless of which players are on the floor for the Thunder, he knows that the hustle, intensity and effort will be there each night. The key for the Thunder moving forward as it adjusts to playing without injured point guard Russell Westbrook will be to execute on both ends of the floor. Whether it's quickly getting into offensive sets and running them crisply or communicating on the defensive end, the Thunder has to be sharp.

"Execution has to be on point and I think it will," Durant said. "We really have to focus in and lock in on every possession. I think we've been doing that since the last few months of the season."

An intangible that aids the Thunder in its attempt to create the best possible shot on offense and deny its opponent a good look on defense is the team's composure. Even if the Rockets or a potential future opponent puts game pressure on Brooks' club, the Thunder is confident in everyone from Serge Ibaka to Kevin Martin to stay focused and be locked in on is needed on each possession.

"Our team is good at just keeping our composure and just sticking with the task at hand," Martin said. "The first part is you have to execute. Every team knows your plays in the Playoffs, so right now we're just getting better in practice and continuing to take those steps that we took over the course of the season. I think we're all confident right now and ready to go."

Above all, the Thunder must set the tone to start the game and then maintain that intensity throughout the entire 48 minutes. The Rockets will surely play fast, loose and with nothing to lose but if the Thunder plays with teamwork, aggressiveness and poise, it has a chance to close out the series and head back to Oklahoma City with a full week to prepare for a second round opponent.

"We know it's going to be the toughest game of the series tomorrow," Durant said. "We're going to have to come out with some energy and continue to play defense and move the ball."