April 30th, 2013
GAME 5: Thunder vs Rockets

Combining the regular season and the Playoffs, when the Thunder and Houston Rockets meet on Wednesday night, it will be the eighth time the two teams have matched up in 2012-13.

At some point, particularly after four straight games, two teams become so familiar with one another’s plays and tendencies that it just becomes about effort, concentration and execution. Head Coach Scott Brooks’ squad leads the first round Playoff series 3-1 as it returns to Oklahoma City for Wednesday night’s Game 5 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. At its core, the Thunder is a defense-first squad, and that was Brooks’ main message to the team when it assembled on Tuesday.

“We just have to focus on being consistently defensively minded,” Brooks said. “This team puts so many three point shooters on the floor. We just have to be really focused on guarding every possession and not having as many breakdowns as we did.”

After running away with Game One, the Thunder has found itself in tight battles over the past three games, all of which were decided by three points or less. In order to set the tone and have success for the entire 48 minutes on Wednesday, the Thunder’s defense led by Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha, wants to be the aggressors and take it to Houston from the opening tip. Starting and closing quarters strongly will also be key, according to Ibaka.

“The focus is to be aggressive,” Ibaka said. “We need to be aggressive tomorrow and do a better job of controlling the ball on offense and stopping them. They had a lot of easy baskets in the paint.”

“We’re working through some things but we all know how to play defense,” Brooks aded. “That doesn’t change no matter who you put on the floor. We know how to play offensive basketball... We’ve always believed in moving the ball and sharing the ball.”

With the recent loss of Russell Westbrook for the rest of the season, the Thunder is doing a great job of adapting and adjusting while maintaining its principles. Leaders like Kevin Durant and Nick Collison have set the internal standards for the Thunder as an organization over the past five years, and those things will propel the team forward. The team battled throughout the 82-game regular season in order to have home court advantage in the Playoffs, which it will rely upon moving forward in the postseason, including on Wednesday night to try to advance to the Western Conference semi-finals.

“As players, coaches and as an organization we’re very prideful in what we do,” Brooks said. “We know that we’re in a pretty good position. We won our two home games, went down there and split and we have a chance for another game where we can close out the series.”

“We know it’s not easy but it’s within reach,” Brooks continued. “We know we have an amazing fan base and the arena is the best in the league. We know our guys are going to be fired up to play tomorrow. We still are going to have to execute defensively for 48 minutes.”

As the team continues to grow and get better throughout the postseason, Brooks and his coaching staff will try to put the Thunder players in the best possible position to succeed. Whether that’s finding ways to stop dribble penetration or getting easier looks in the half court, the Thunder will remain vigilant in finding the best way to win. The team knows that there will be ups and downs and that there will be nights where things won’t go the Thunder’s way. Through all of that, the team will simply control what it can, namely its composure, communication and teamwork.

“Our fans love our players because they know that they’re going to give everything they have,” Brooks said. “It’s not always going to look pretty, but their effort and intensity and love for each other is going to always be displayed”