Thunder Held Serve, Heads to LA With Focus
After winning Games 1 and 2 at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Monday and Wednesday, the Thunder now travels to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers on back-to-back nights for Games 3 and 4 of its second round series. With the Thunder’s 77-75 grind-it-out victory that ended on a 9-0 run, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team is glad to be leaving Oklahoma City with a 2-0 series lead, but knows its toughest task is ahead of it.
“We held court, now we have to go to LA and play two tough games,” Brooks said. “We know that they’re going to give us their best shot tomorrow night. We have to have a lot of focus and we have to understand that they’re going to play desperately. They’re going to come at us and we have to be ready for that. Our guys have done a good job all year. I anticipate that it will be the same.”
Game 1 was a 119-90 runaway victory for the Thunder, in which starters like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha didn’t see the floor in the third quarter. In fact, all 13 active Thunder players saw minutes, and no players were on the court for more than 28 minutes. Needless to say, Game 2 was a completely different style of contest, a physical, plodding game that featured a grand total of 59 total points for both teams combined in the second half.
“I think we did a good job defensively and I think they did a good job of not taking quick shots either,” Brooks said. “So it kind of slowed the game down. We really can’t do much with that, they shot a lot of balls with under ten seconds, even under five seconds. A lot of times it was even in the last second of the shot clock. Give our guys credit that we were defending it, but that was probably their strategy going into it.”
Part of the Thunder’s identity is being able to get up and down the court, rebound on defense and push in transition to open up the floor. While Brooks’ squad did win the fast break points battle 18-5, the Lakers did a good job of creating its desired pace during the game. A growing quality for the Thunder team however, is the mental energy with which it plays. Facing the methodical Dallas Mavericks in Round 1 helped, but the Thunder’s concentration level to force three shot clock violations during the game.
“We talk about finishing up the possessions,” Brooks said. “Sometimes teams are going to make you play all 24 seconds. The last series, Dallas, they were one of the best teams at scoring in the last six seconds of the shot clock and making two or three extra passes. So it kind of prepared us. The Lakers, they had a lot of their triangle stuff last night. They were throwing a lot of that in their sets. We were ready for that. Our guys did a good job of defending it.”
The Lakers seemed to throw an entirely different style of game at the Thunder in Game 2, and as the series heads to the Staples Center, it is clear that the Thunder will have to make some adjustments to get the flow back to its favor. Coach Brooks would like to see his team convert better when running and making the extra pass, in addition to freeing up his top scorers like Durant and Westbrook, who were defended differently in Game 2.
“We actually had a fair amount of transition opportunities that we didn’t do a great job of converting,” Brooks said. “Offensively they did a few things that we have to make adjustments to, and we will. I saw most of the game this morning, they did a good job of double teaming Kevin’s pin downs and they did a good job of double teaming Russell’s post ups. So we have to find ways to counter that.”
When Brooks addressed the small media contingent on Thursday before the team departed for Los Angeles, it was clear that the Thunder realizes that its 2-0 lead doesn’t mean much in a seven game series. When the Thunder traveled to Dallas in Round 1, Westbrook approached Game 3 like the series was tied at 0-0. That attitude, seemingly a page out of Fisher’s Playoff notebook, is how the Thunder looks at its trip to the West Coast.
“There are a lot of things that we have to do improve and make sure that Friday night we give ourselves a chance to win,” Fisher said. “We did what we should be capable of doing at this point, winning our games at home. We consider ourselves to be one of the best teams in the league and you have two games on your home court, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you should have an opportunity to win them, and that’s what we’ve done. Now we’re faced with the task of going out on the road and playing against one of the best home teams in the NBA this past season.”