Executing on Both Ends Key Against Spurs

Choosing a bounce pass over a chest pass, sprinting to the top of the key to set a pick and communicating on defense might seem small in the grand scheme of a 48 minute basketball game. Those details, however, can be the difference between winning and losing.

Over the past five years that the Thunder has been in Oklahoma City, team leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have continued to grow, learn and mature as they understand the nuances of the NBA. Head Coach Scott Brooks has aided that development and the improvement in basketball IQ of the entire Thunder roster so that now, the team is able to execute on offense and defense with those small details in mind on a nightly basis. The Thunder will need to make as many of those correct decisions as possible tonight against the San Antonio Spurs.

“You have to focus in on the details on every possession and executing,” Durant said. “Not just on offense, but on the defensive end. We know this team is going to give us a tough game, from top to bottom… We had a great two days of practice and hopefully we come out there and have a good game.”

Looking at the team statistics, it is clear that the Thunder is finding ways to impact the game as a team on both ends of the floor. Brooks’ squad ranks first in three point percentage, free throws made, free throw percentage, blocked shots, points and point differential, while also ranking second in field goal percentage, free throw attempts and field goal percentage defense. When a team can both lock in on the defensive end and then convert offensively, it produces results like the Thunder’s 19-4 start to the year.

“That’s the thing I’m proud of with our guys,” Brooks said. “We’re doing a lot of things as a team. Our team stats are really good on both ends of the floor. It’s one of the things we take pride in, being two-way players and a two-way team. We defend as well as anybody, and we can score.”

Going against the Spurs tonight will test the Thunder with another team that manages to impact the game on multiple levels. The Spurs rank first in assists and have fouled the least number of times this year, while also scoring the second most points, shooting the third best field goal percentage and snagging the third most defensive rebounds. With players like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in the opposing huddle, the Spurs present a challenge on both sides of the floor.

“Our offense is more pick-and-roll, pass, draw and kick, get wide open shots,” Durant said. “Theirs is the same way… We’re looking forward to the challenge. Those guys always present a tough matchup for us. We just have to come out with our mindset and our defensive schemes and hopefully we do a good job on them.”

In some ways, the similar styles and strengths of the two teams can make it simpler for both teams to focus on themselves and executing their own offensive and defensive plays. After all, after a six-game playoff series last year and the season-opener on November 1st, these two squads are very familiar with each other’s plays and what they attempt to do on the offensive and defensive ends. As a result, it’s going to come down to which team can complete its game plan most effectively.

“We definitely focus on what we do a majority of the time, but we spend a lot of time on our opponent, whether it’s in the film room or in our coaching meetings,” Brooks said. “We know what they do and they know exactly what we do. We’ve played so many times against each other.”

The Spurs come into this game with a 19-6 record, yet another year of highly successful basketball for the team led by Head Coach Greg Popovich. Brooks has always spoken highly of Popovich, the Spurs organization and players like Duncan and Parker, and the Thunder knows the task of beating any NBA team, on any night is no easy task. At Chesapeake Energy Arena at 7 o’clock p.m. tonight, Brooks and company will be ready for a battle.

“San Antonio, we know they’re one of the best teams over the last 15 years,” Brooks said. “We’re going to have to play well… Tonight’s game is going to be one of the toughest games of the year."