April 21st, 2014
Making the First Punch Again

In the NBA, the side that is most aggressive is the one who dictates the outcome. For the Thunder, being the team playing with the most force on Monday night is paramount to success.

Up 1-0 on the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ Thunder squad faces its second test tonight. The Grizzlies are sure to come out playing with extreme intensity, and the Thunder not only has to match that coming out of the gates, but exceed it. There’s no script to how these playoff games will unfold, and the Thunder recognizes that Game 2 will likely bear little stylistic resemblance to its 100-86 Game 1 victory.

The key, according to veteran leaders like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Caron Butler, will be to play with the type of hunger typically seen out of a team that lost Game 1, instead of one that came out victorious.

“We don’t want to come out and relax because we won one game,” Durant said. “That’s what we were supposed to do. We want to come out like we’re down 0-1 and be physical with these guys and on the offensive end, continue to move the ball like we do.”

“We didn’t do anything,” Butler echoed. “We just won a game that we were supposed to. We have home court advantage, and here’s another opportunity tonight. We want to take advantage of playing in front of a home crowd like this and make the series 2-0.”

In Game 1, the Thunder jumped out to an 8-0 lead that then became a 14-2 advantage before eventually extending its lead to 25 points in the second quarter. A disjointed third quarter saw a rhythm change, as the Grizzlies clawed back to cut the Thunder’s lead to just two points early in the fourth quarter. With the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd behind it, the Thunder went on a quick scoring spree, matched with defensive stops to put the game away.

Brooks and company understand that Memphis will not likely allow itself to fall into such an early hole in Game 2, so it is essential for the Thunder to play with maximum focus, intensity and precision not just to start the game, but for all four quarters. Durant, as a leader, wants his squad to put together and entire game of sharp execution on both sides of the floor.

“They want to start stronger than how they did last game,” Durant explained. “We have to be able to punch them first instead of just waiting back for them to punch us. We have to be the first hitter.”

“We have to put 48 minutes together,” Durant concluded.

There are some simple, and not-so-simple, ways that the Thunder can re-engineer another high-level performance on both sides of the floor on Monday night. The first component to doing so is poise and composure. Being steady both between games and in the midst of a game is what can define a team’s mental toughness and ability to withstand adversity that is bound to arrive.

The second aspect is the execution of the x’s and o’s. Both the Thunder and Grizzlies know the other’s gameplan, so there’s no mystery involved. Whichever team forces the other into tough shots then rebounds misses before getting out into offense run with quick pace and tempo will have the best chance of coming away victorious tonight.

“I’ve been stressing over the last month to keep the same disposition and go out there and play extremely hard and just play our brand and style of basketball,” Butler said. “We want to come out with energy, be loose and execute our offense.”

“Defensively we have to do a better job of closing up the paint and rebounding,” Durant said. “We have to stick to our gameplan and do it a little bit better than last game.”