May 8th, 2014
Replicating and Improving on Game 2

When the Thunder sets the tone with its defensive intensity and keeps the ball moving on offense, it generates pace, energy and a freight train of momentum.

Leaders Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ensured from the very first possession of Game 2 against the Los Angeles Clippers that the effort was going to be placed squarely on the defensive side of the ball. With a steal on the first possession, the Thunder’s perimeter defenders showed Chris Paul and the Clippers what type of game it was going to be, and as the game wore on, Durant and Thabo Sefolosha found better routes to chase three-point shooters around screens.

Before the Thunder took off on a plane for California, Head Coach Scott Brooks said he wants to make sure that the effort is replicated on Friday in Los Angeles, but that he was pleased with the way his team responded to even up the second round series at 1-1.

“We had better command of the basketball, so open shots weren’t as easily available,” Brooks said.

“We came out with a great defensive disposition,” Brooks continued. “All five guys were locked in. That’s what it’s going to have to take to beat this team.”

Defense will surely be the determining factor in this series, as whoever is able to dominate the paint, force turnovers and contest on the perimeter will have the better chance of winning. The Thunder, however, can also impact the Clippers on the offensive end by playing with force like it did in Game 2. Cuts were made sharply, screens were set on time and passes were crisp and decisive throughout the night.

Perhaps the most interesting development, however, was the way the Thunder inverted the offense and attacked the Clippers in the post. Both Westbrook and Durant have developed dynamic post up moves and can use their physicality, size and footwork to hurt the Clippers close to the basket. With players like Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler on the perimeter awaiting passes, the Thunder also knows its two playmakers, when double teamed, can pick out teammates for easy catch-and-shoot opportunities or dives to the rim.

“They’re both good post up players,” Brooks said. “When they get low post position, we feel that’s good offense for us. That can settle us down and make them make tough decisions. If they double, we have three-point shooters on the floor also.”

“If they don’t (double), Russell has a good matchup,” Brooks continued. “We want him to be aggressive. The same thing with Kevin. Kevin has done a good job over the years of improving on that spot of the floor, along with Russell. That’s something we’ll continue to explore.”

The keys for the Thunder in Game 3 in Los Angeles will be to get back in transition, prevent the Clippers from getting lobs and dunks in the paint, denying easy scores at the basket. On top of that, the Thunder will have to be cognizant of the Clippers’ three-point shooters in JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes. While the Thunder displayed the requisite focus, intensity and collective spirit to win in Game 2, Brooks knows his team will need to continue to ratchet up its determination as the series unfolds.

“As the series goes along you have to forget about the last game and bring the same energy and focus and determination to the next game,” Brooks said.

“We have to do the same thing in Los Angeles,” Brooks said. “We know how they’re feeling. After you lose, you want to come back and redeem (yourself) and play much better. We have to come out with the same mindset, same approach and same determination that we had last game.”