Thunder’s Depth Important vs. Lakers
During the regular season, the Thunder played a full 10-man rotation. In Game 1 of its second-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Head Coach Scott Brooks stuck to that rotation and then some.
All 13 active players saw minutes Monday night, with center Nazr Mohammed logging big minutes after center Kendrick Perkins re-aggravated a hip injury. Brooks and his staff trust reserve players like Mohammed, Daequan Cook and Nick Collison, in addition to players like Cole Aldrich and Royal Ivey, to be ready when called upon. That trust will be vital tonight in Game 2 (8:30 p.m. on TNT and the Thunder Radio Network).
“We’re confident with the guys we have on our team,” Collison said. “We have a lot of guys that can play. We have guys that haven’t gotten the opportunity that are capable of playing well for us. We have faith in all of our guys, that’s what we practice and everybody practices the same amount of reps. It’s important, Playoffs are a long haul. It’s a marathon with so many games, and things come up where different guys have to step up and play.”
With Perkins listed as a game-time decision tonight, Brooks’ ability to turn to others in the rotation to make an impact is an extremely important factor against the Lakers. With front-court players like Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the Lakers pose a difficult test that Serge Ibaka, Perkins, Collison, Mohammed and Aldrich will have to contend with all series. In addition, the roles of James Harden, Derek Fisher and Cook off the bench will be critical during those middle-of-the-half stretches when Brooks turns to them in the rotation.
“I have a lot of confidence in our guys, even the guys that don’t play,” Brooks said. “They work every day and they put themselves in a position if they ever get called, that they’re going to have success. We like playing nine or 10 guys. The Lakers are a big team, so you have to throw a lot of guys out there. I thought Nazr did a great job. He didn’t play much in that Dallas series. He really stayed ready and stayed focused and stayed within the game plan and came in and did a great job when Perk went down.”
In addition to throwing different, fresh bodies on the floor throughout the game and keeping with the Thunder’s familiar rotation, Brooks’ squad needs to replicate some of the things that worked well in Game 1. Whether it was keeping turnovers low, sharing the basketball or bringing defensive intensity, the constantly vigilant and studious Thunder team took to the film in yesterday’s practice and today’s shoot-around to hone in on how it was successful in Game 1 and what it needs to do in Game 2.
“I think we saw some things that we had some success with in Game 1,” Collison said. “We’ll try to re-create those things. The biggest thing is how locked in we were defensively. That was a plus for us. We need to continue to do that. Offensively, we did a good job of not turning the ball over. Our spacing was good, which makes it easier for our guys to make decisions so they’re not playing in a crowd.”
The efficiency and effectiveness with which the Thunder played in Game 1 can be attributed to a full week of practice that helped Brooks’ squad find more chemistry and a rapport with one another on the court. Brooks said, however, that type of unselfish, trusting play is a product of the continuity the Thunder organization has maintained over the past four seasons in Oklahoma City.
“I think we’ve done a good job of playing together,” Brooks said. “The week did help, we had proper rest and we got a lot of work in, but we’re a good team because of the continuity. We’ve been together a while. I know what they do. They know what I do. We’ve been together. I think that’s where you start with success. You have a good group of guys that have been together, been around and I think that’s the more important thing.”