Show Grit, Show Toughness – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at PHX

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 8:00 p.m. CT
  • Television:Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

PHOENIX – From here on out, every matchup is practically a playoff game. Even against teams that are near the bottom of the standings like the Phoenix Suns, the Thunder’s mindset over these final five weeks of the season is that each chance it has to get on the court helps determine destiny.

“Every game counts at this point,” veteran guard Raymond Felton said. “We gotta really buckle down and take care of each and every game.”

A lesson the Thunder has continued to narrow down on is one of building consistency to play closer to its identity for the entirety of all four quarters. Of course there will be stretches during games where Head Coach Billy Donovan will need to call a timeout or his team will need to regroup, but those stretches where opponents go on runs or the Thunder is out of sorts need to be limited to just a minute or two at a time.

Against a young, hungry Phoenix squad with a sharpshooter in Devin Booker, the newly acquired Elfrid Payton at point guard and a springy swingman in Josh Jackson, the Thunder will need to play with energy and intensity throughout the game tonight.

“There’s so many possessions in an NBA game, I don’t think that we’re just going to play perfect for 48 minutes,” Donovan began, referencing the lulls in performance. “We have to be able to stop that. We’ve got to be able to self-correct that.”

“We have to have more concentration, we gotta have more focus, attention to detail, those kind of things,” Donovan listed. “Executing on both ends of the floor, that’s something we’ve been striving for, that consistency.”

The Suns are coming off a road victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder a win in overtime over the Dallas Mavericks. Behind the play of point guard Russell Westbrook, forwards Paul George and Carmelo Anthony and the bruising rebounding provided by Steven Adams, the Thunder has a fleet of star players to rely upon. Each night, Donovan seems to evaluate his group to determine the best options for the fifth man to close games.

On Wednesday it was Felton, and the former Mavericks point guard delivered a huge catch-and-shoot three-pointer during crunch time while also defending at a high level down the stretch. Tonight against the Suns, the matchups may look quite different. It could be Alex Abrines, Jerami Grant, Josh Huestis, Terrance Ferguson or Patrick Patterson who gets the nod, but regardless the Thunder needs to play with toughness and togetherness on both ends in order to close out games when they’re close.

“We have to know at those moments that we can get those wins,” George stated.

“We’re not perfect, but we show grit, we show toughness and we show that we can still win tight games,” Felton added. “That’s always going to be big, especially going down the stretch.”

Nick's Notebook

- A major facet of the game where the Thunder can help itself avoid late-game situations is by limiting the Suns at the three-point stripe. Over the course of the season, the Thunder has gone through ebbs and flows defensively, and as the team finishes out these final 19 games, the ability to protect the perimeter will be paramount. By limiting the number of straight-line drives to the rim and then hustling back out to the line to contest, the Thunder might not be able to prevent threes from getting launched, but at least it can force those shots to be low percentage looks.

“We cannot have situations where we’re just closing and giving them shots,” Donovan said. “You’re not going to prevent teams from taking three-point shots but we can do a better job of getting out there and contesting.”
- Some nights in the NBA, shots just don’t fall. When the Thunder has those type of nights, it has something else it can count on – offensive rebounding from Steven Adams. The bruising New Zealander is averaging 5.2 offensive rebounds per game, giving the Thunder at least that many second chances to get a look at the basket. Even if the shooting percentage is low, racking up an edge in field goal attempts is always a sure fire way to increase the odds of a win.

“Anytime Steve-o can get us extra possessions offensively, and just a lot of the rebounds he can get, is real big,” Felton said. “He’s been tremendous for us all year and we need him to do that every night.”