Pick-and-Roll Defense, Offensive Aggressiveness Key to Series

As it always does during the regular season and in the Playoffs, the Thunder kicked off its half week of preparation for the San Antonio Spurs with a heavy film session on Wednesday.

In breaking down the tape of what the Spurs like to do and what the Thunder has been able to do to be successful during the season, Head Coach Scott Brooks identified a few early keys to the series. The first of which that he discussed with the media after the Thunder’s two-hour practice on Wednesday was pick-and-roll defense, which will be intent on slowing down Spurs guard Tony Parker’s penetration and distribution.

“That’s what makes them a very good team,” Brooks said. “They have great decision makers. They have an amazing point guard that gets into the paint and is as quick as anybody in this league. They have Duncan who is as smart as any player in this league.”

The Thunder certainly has a healthy respect for the veteran-laden Spurs roster and the fact the team has surrounded Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili with great three point shooters, who make a lot and take a lot of high percentage three pointers. At the same time, Brooks and his staff realizes that with guard Russell Westbrook and bigs like Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka defending pick-and-rolls, the Thunder has the personnel to be successful.

“They’re going to run 60 of them (pick-and-rolls) a game, and Parker is probably going to have 35 of them himself,” Brooks said. “We have to continue to play with high intensity.”

The other side of the point guard matchup will be interesting as well, as All-NBA second teamer Russell Westbrook will look to continue his nice run of play. During the 2011-2012 Playoffs, Westbrook has averaged 24.1 points on 47.2 percent shooting in addition to 4.7 rebounds per game and a solid 2.75-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. In fact, during the Round 2 series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Westbrook racked up 23 assists and only four turnovers.

“They’re going to have to game plan against Russell also,” Brooks said. “But what we do offensively, we try to space the floor. We did a good job the last two series of spacing and executing and keeping the ball in our hands and not the opponents’ hands. We did a good job of not turning the ball over, and hopefully that continues.”

With shooters spreading the floor and ready for screening and cutting opportunities, the Thunder aims to use Westbrook’s athleticism, ball-handling and decision making to get the entire team involved. Sharing the basketball will be key as Westbrook uses his quickness and vision to be the engine of the offense, sprinkling in a few highlight-reel plays like his acrobatic 15-foot finger roll that he banked in after a steal in Game 5 against the Lakers.

“He gets to the paint,” Brooks said. “Like last game that he got the steal and took it down court with the “and-one”, it was a lucky shot, but his abilities and his determination put him in that position. We need him to play that way, we need him to make good decisions and we also need him to make good decisions for his teammates and he’s done a great job with that.”

In all, the Thunder is prepared for a battle of a series, not only in terms of the point guard position where pick-and-roll defense and attacking the paint will be crucial. Whether it’s the post defense of Perkins and Ibaka, the scoring ability of Kevin Durant or the fluidity of the second unit’s offense and grittiness of its defense, the Thunder hopes to play at its highest level throughout the series against the Spurs that starts on Sunday night.

“We present problems also,” Brooks said. “We have good players. We wouldn’t be in this position if we weren’t a good team also. We know that both teams are very good offensively... We have to play well, but they’re going to have to play well to beat us also.”