Thunder “D” Tied on a String

In the locker room, the film room and on the basketball court, the Thunder is ever-connected and always in communication.

In its Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder’s teamwork, cooperation and collective effort on the defensive end will be essential. As "bigs" like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison always say, being “tied on a string” on defense is extremely important in dealing with the pick-and-roll and drive-and-kick heavy Spurs. On Friday, Head Coach Scott Brooks and his team spent a long time in the film room before getting some practice time in at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center.

“We studied different personnels and different sets and tendencies of what the Spurs will do,” Brooks said. “I thought today’s practice was as good as you can have this late in the season. It wasn’t long, but we had a long film session and went over some things that we have to continue to focus on. The practice was good. It was high-intensity, a lot of guys really committing to getting after each other and making the practice very good and competitive. I’m very pleased with the last three or four days.”

As Brooks and his players mentioned earlier this week, the days between its Game 5 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday and Sunday’s Game 1 against the Spurs have been well-used for the team’s continual development. Improvement on a consistent and daily basis is one of the core philosophies of the Thunder organization, in addition to selflessness and teamwork. On Friday, part of that work had to do with the analysis of how the team can try to defend the Spurs offense.

“Usually it starts with a pick-and-roll and then you have to play out of that,” Collison said. “It will test our defensive principles for sure. … Our initial position is big, and then closeouts. Almost every part of our defense will be tested in the way that they play.”

While the Lakers had players like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum that tested the Thunder in individual matchups, the Spurs’ offensive spacing and execution is the biggest challenge in this series. Whether it’s stopping penetration at the point of attack, closing out quickly and correctly on 3-point shooters or rotating in help-side defense, the Thunder must be on point as a unit, as James Harden described.

“Everybody has to be on a string,” Harden said. “Everything isn’t always going to be perfect all the time so we’re going to have to scramble and have some mismatches every once in a while. I think we’re athletic enough and long enough to get the job done.”

Harden chuckled at the thought of how far his personal defense and the Thunder’s defense have come in three years. Whether it was simply learning the ropes of professional basketball or the fact that the team, with its young nucleus, has been allowed to learn and develop together over time, the Thunder feels it plays with more mutual trust and sharpness on defense.

“That comes with playing along with one another, being in tough battles in the Playoffs and the regular season,” Harden said. “Just having that trust, knowing that guy is going to step up when you need him to. I think we’re more prepared and on a string this year than last year. We’re looking forward to it.”

Just as Harden is, Brooks is well aware of what the Thunder must do to be successful in this series, but also confident that his players have the ability to execute the game plan. The goal for the Thunder as a team is for there to never be a question of the effort it will get on each possession on the defensive end, and as the unit continues to build its trust and rotate efficiently and smartly, the results will continue improving.

“Defense is what we’re about, it’s why we’re in the position we are in,” Brooks said. “We have to continue to have that mentality, that mindset. … Each guy has to give themselves 100 percent to the team. We’ve done that in the last few days in practice, and we’ve done that pretty much all year.”