Thunder Working to Make Every Possession Count

The Thunder wrapped up its game against the Los Angeles Clippers at 10 p.m. on Wednesday and scheduled practice for 11 the next morning, but by 8:45 a.m., half the team had already shown up at the Integris Health Thunder Development Center.

Center Kendrick Perkins is one of the most respected members of the Thunder locker room, but the display of dedication this morning showed him that he doesn’t have to speak up too much to get his teammates focused. They already are.

“I just think we paid close attention to the little things today,” Perkins said after practice. “Our pick-and-roll defense from the bigs, from myself and Serge (Ibaka), getting up on the screens and helping our guards out more. I thought last night Serge and myself could have done a better job of containing Chris Paul.”

Paul and the Clippers made a comeback in the fourth quarter to steal a game the Thunder controlled for three quarters.

For Head Coach Scott Brooks, it’s OK for his team to take losses hard and to own them, but the next day each game, whether it’s a win or a loss, must be used only to improve moving forward. Thursday’s practice and film session was primarily focused on the lessons the Thunder can take with it into the final segment of the regular season.

“We just looked at a few things defensively, just in the areas of the floor that we could have improved upon last night and going into this next stretch of games,” Brooks said. “There are going to be a lot of point guards, a lot of good ones, a lot of pick-and-roll play that we could do a better job with. We didn’t focus on last night, we focused on our mindset going forward more-so than the game.”

Defensive intensity, focus and fundamentals have been the stated goal of the Thunder all season, which is why Perkins and Brooks honed in on pick-and-roll fundamentals and the attitude with which the Thunder approaches defense from here on out.

Another aspect of the game that the Thunder wants to sharpen heading into the post-season is its execution on offense. While the Thunder racked up 21 assists and moved the ball well against the Clippers, it struggled with its perimeter game. Getting easy buckets at the rim on an off shooting night, particularly late in games, can be monumental during physical playoff basketball.

“I feel like there are a couple little things that we have to clean up and we have to execute better down the stretch on the offensive end,” Perkins said. “I feel like in those type of games, when you’re playing teams that are pretty good and are playing for the playoffs and it’s a four-point, six-point game the whole game, down the stretch you can’t afford to have bad shots or turn the ball over. Each time down the court it has to be a good if not great possession.”

After the Clippers game, Perkins referenced a conversation between himself and veteran point guard Derek Fisher, mirroring his statement about the importance of each individual possession, no matter what the time and score. When the Thunder leads by double digits it needs to have the same level of commitment and efficiency on both ends of the floor as it does when it desperately needs a bucket in the waning moments of a game.

“That’s what we talk about all the time,” Brooks said. “That’s what good teams do, always challenge yourself to have good possessions on defense and no dead possessions on offense. We’re much better. It shows with how we play and what we think and even what we talk about during timeouts. What we talk about during timeouts is always about that.”

The Thunder has plenty of opportunities to practice those defensive fundamentals and its offensive execution over the final two weeks of the season, with a back-to-back coming up Friday and Saturday, a rematch with the Clippers on Monday and three games against the Sacramento Kings in 12 days.

That type of schedule, playing the same teams multiple times in a short span, might be a great precursor to the first round playoff series the Thunder will have to play. In order to prepare for that first playoff tilt, the Thunder must have the right attitude as it closes out its regular season schedule.

“It’s more important how we play going forward,” Brooks said. “We have eight games in 13 nights. Not a lot of practice time, not a lot of shoot-arounds, but we have to have a good mindset going into every game.”