Practice Reinforces Defensive Principles

There are certain attributes that are becoming characteristic of Thunder players – speed, athleticism, length and size for their position. As each player continues to be a part of the Thunder program for longer, they also become increasingly well-versed in the detail-oriented way the Thunder plays defense.

Every night the effort Head Coach Scott Brooks’ Thunder squad is there on the defensive end of the floor, and as the players build more continuity with each day, the team’s overall execution improves. There will certainly be ups and downs throughout the season due to natural slippage, the rigors of the NBA schedule and difficult matchups, but if all five men on the floor for the Thunder are glued in to the same principles the Thunder can be successful.

“We talk to the team all the time, it’s not a one-man, not a two-man, it’s five guys that it takes to stop teams in this league,” Brooks said. “It always comes down to that end of the floor for us.”

On Monday night the Thunder used an inspired defensive effort that started by contesting shots in the first quarter and extended into stifling pressure in the second and third quarters in a home win over the Dallas Mavericks. By forcing the Dallas into 34.7 percent shooting and seven turnovers in the middle quarters, the Thunder used a combination of principled coverage and opportunistic aggressiveness to stymie the Mavericks.

“I thought everybody was on the same page,” center Kendrick Perkins said. “We were tied on a string. One guy went to help and the other guy had his back. Everybody was talking.”

The Thunder forced the Mavericks to shoot a meager 41.4 percent from the field, but as is typical of the team, it hit the practice floor at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center on Tuesday with the intention of getting better. In fact, it was a perfect opportunity for the Thunder to look at its positive effort the night before, then reinforce those disciplined defensive principles.

“Anytime with our group it’s good to have a practice,” Brooks said. “We love being in the gym, we love working on the game and we have a good spirit about ourselves with our group of guys coming in and giving great effort and doing it for ways to help the team get better. I thought all of our guys were good today.”

Practices like the one this morning give the Thunder an opportunity to gain even more confidence in itself, particularly on the end of the floor it cares the most about –defense. Opponents will invariably have hot shooting nights where they hit shots despite near-perfect Thunder defense, but under General Manager Sam Presti, the organization has always been process-based as opposed to outcome driven.

As a result, the Thunder hit the practice floor this morning with the intention of continuing to build those good habits that worked so well against Dallas. “We just don’t want to get bored with the process,” Perkins said. “We just have to make sure we know we’re a defensive team first and we have to come out and play hard and play with a lot of energy. It doesn’t matter who we play.”

Rather than look back at previous games, win or lose, the Thunder uses those experiences not to feel good or bad about itself, but to help prepare it for its next game. With that attitude top of mind, the Thunder already put its focus onto the Golden State Warriors, who visit Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday night. Whether it was looking at how to cover the Warriors’ pin-down screens or the best way to keep Golden State off the offensive glass, the Thunder got a head start on its preparation for its Western Conference foe.

“It was good to have a practice to go over Golden State’s offense,” Perkins said. “We did a lot of practicing on that and getting into guys and knowing how we’re going to play it.”