Thunder Harnessing Will to Win

Earlier this week, Thunder center and former NBA Champion with the Boston Celtics said that once a team gets to the NBA Finals, it’s all about heart and the will to win.

Head Coach Scott Brooks and his Thunder crew combine that determination and fire with a pragmatic and focused sense of preparation. Both aspects are key to success, and are something that even third-year players like Serge Ibaka have understood and bought into. Only hours before its Game 1 matchup against the Miami Heat, Ibaka seemed ready and eager to get over to Chesapeake Energy Arena to start the game.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for a week,” Ibaka said. “We’ve been working hard to be ready, so we’re ready and excited to play.”

Ibaka has learned his tenacity, aggressiveness and dedication to the team under the tutelage of Brooks and also his frontcourt mate Perkins. That attitude is pervasive amongst the Thunder roster, a hard-nosed nature that will be critical in what looks to be a drag-out, knock-down fight of an NBA Finals series. One way the Thunder’s will to succeed has manifested itself has come in the film room all week, as Brooks described.

“It’s here, we’re ready,” Brooks said. “I knew we were ready when we watched the film this morning and I said, ‘We’re watching that clip again?’…It’s good that it’s here, our guys are ready. We had a great four or five days of work. Now it just comes down to going out there and playing with instincts and playing great basketball with good effort and playing well.”

The way the Thunder studied this week, and truly, all season, has been a sign of growth and maturity for a young team who has learned and continued to learn how to win. The analysis of the tape is an important aspect of scouting the opponent, but even more so helps the Thunder find better ways to impose its own game and force. Veteran guard Thabo Sefolosha explained that in fact Perkins’ description of the will-to-win can also be translated to how the Thunder readies itself for each night’s battle.

“The main thing is to focus on us tonight,” Sefolosha said. “I think it’s the way we prepare and then focus. You can’t just go there and think it’s going to fun and just play the game. You have to prepare the right way. We’re in a great situation right now, but we want to make the best of it right now.”

Ultimately, the x’s and o’s and schemes of the game will be habit and second nature to the Thunder, and as a result the final testament to where the Thunder is as a team is the heart it shows on the court. The fight within itself to execute, the desire it exhibits to run and close out on shooters and the mental poise it displays to make the correct pass to get a high percentage shot will all be evidence of a team that is locked in, composed and fully intent on winning as a team.

“He’s right,” Brooks said of Perkins’ aforementioned statement about will and heart. “Every game it’s a contest for who is going to play better basketball. Basketball is played so many different ways. We have to play it tough, we have to play it with physicality, we have to play it with determination and then we have to play it with moving the basketball.”