Thunder Wants Strong Defense, Crisp Offense

MIAMI -- The Thunder has used a variety of methods to propel itself to the NBA Finals, but two in particular were in focus Monday during its practice session.

As the team gears up for its Game 4 matchup against the Miami Heat on Tuesday, its togetherness on defense and execution on offense will be critical.

The Thunder used tight, strong, perimeter defense along with efficient, crisp offense during its 12-3 Playoff run against the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. In Sunday's 91-85 loss to the Heat in Game 3, the Thunder defense played well, but the offense found itself in a lot of one-on-one situations, making for tough, contested shots.

“We talk about things, we always talk about playing better and looking forward to the next game,” Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “We’ve always done that. We’ve had a couple of plays here and there that could have changed things up.”

With aggressive and talented playmakers in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, along with shot-makers like Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Derek Fisher all over the court, the Thunder used a swift and pass-heavy offense to attack teams all season long. That efficiency has dipped a bit against the highly athletic Heat defense, meaning that the Thunder has to go back to the practice floor and film room to find ways to get those high-percentage, open looks that it was getting in the flow of the offense earlier this June.

“We just have to move the ball better,” Durant said. “This team, they trap a lot and bring guys off shooters in the corners and leave guys open so we have to make those passes. It’s easier said than done though. They do a great job of using their hands and making it tough on the passer. We just have to make sure that we make strong, on-target passes right to the right spot and rely on the shooter to finish it. We just have to continue to do a better job.”

If the Thunder can get that type of offensive rhythm back, and combine it with the type of team and perimeter defense that it played on Sunday, it will give itself a great chance to win on Tuesday night. While the team admittedly gave up a bit too many points in the paint in the first quarter, throughout the game it held the Heat to an incredibly low 19 percent shooting from outside the paint. Whether it was closing out and contesting shots or forcing difficult looks, the Thunder’s perimeter players made an impact, and hope to do it again.

“Just clogging off the paint,” Westbrook said. “I think guys did a great job of walling off the paint. We started rebounding the ball. We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds early in the game, but I think towards the end of the game and in the third quarter we did a great job of walling off the paint.”

Now trailing 2-1 in the series with two more games left to be played in Miami, Brooks’ squad realizes that the opportunity to regain control of the series lies directly at its feet. There is no looking ahead to Game 5, 6 or 7 in this series; no looking behind at the first three games. For the Thunder, living in the moment and analyzing how it can improve each day will be key.

“We don’t look at that or feel sorry for ourselves that we didn’t win the game,” Brooks said. “We feel that we had a chance to win the game and we’ll try to get better from it and move onto the next game.”