Thunder Wants to Start Series Strong


SAN ANTONIO -- It’s game day, and for the Thunder that means it can stop going against one another in practice, and square off against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

The Thunder has taken care of business through a one-game-at-a-time approach through the first two rounds of the Playoffs, where it defeated the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in four games and the Los Angeles Lakers in five. Its next challenge comes in the form of the Spurs, who have won 18 consecutive games and will play at home in Games 1 and 2.

Thunder forward Kevin Durant, however, says his team is ready for the test.

“We’re just excited to play,” he said. “Being in the Western Conference Finals, we’ve put ourselves in a good position. We just have to take advantage of the moment and hopefully we come out and play well tonight. … We just have to try to start off strong. The crowd is going to be into it, it’s going to be tough to play but I think on the road is where we all come together more as a group and hopefully we get it done.”

Durant and his teammates have done a nice job all season of playing well as a unit on the road, with a 21-12 mark during the regular season and a 3-1 record in the postseason. The idea of playing with and for one another was on the front of center Kendrick Perkins’ mind as well.

The big man outlined his keys to a Game 1 on the road in a place like San Antonio, saying that togetherness will have to be at its highest levels.

“Just make sure that we stick together and at the end of the day just help the helper,” Perkins said. “If one guy goes to help, just make sure we have each others back. Things aren’t going to be perfect, our defense is going to break down but at the end of the day we just have to scramble.”

While Perkins and his teammates have an idea of the way it wants to play and the most important things it will have to concentrate on in the series, guard James Harden also chimed in about the beginning of new Playoff series. Now playing in the Thunder’s seventh Playoff series since the team arrived in Oklahoma City, Harden and the young core of the team have some insight as to how to approach Game 1s.

“The first game is always an adjustment,” Harden said. “You have to get used to how they play and used to certain things. You have to just take it one game at a time. That’s what we’ve done a great job of this year and especially this postseason, taking it one game at a time and not getting carried away. … I think that’s what we’re going to do tonight from the tip of the game.”

A lot of focus and preparation work has been put into this first game of the series since both teams had nearly a week to rest after their Round 2 series, but it’s just the beginning of what will be a fight of a series. Compartmentalizing each game as its own entity will be essential for the Thunder as it moves through the series. Head Coach Scott Brooks believes his team needs to approach every game in the series with the same level of intensity.

“It’s important to have good games, whether it’s one, two, three or four, it doesn’t matter,” Brooks said. “You have to have a good game. You have to play well to win in this league in the Playoffs and we’ve done a good job with that. We still have some steps to keep going further with our process, but we have a good opportunity tonight. … Game 1 will be just as important as Game 2.”

With all the talk of strategy, basketball IQ and scheming throughout the week, the Thunder is also just ready to get out on the court and play its hearts out. At shootaround it was easy to tell that the players were excited for its next task as it continues to problem solve with one another while playing with 100 percent energy and effort.

“Getting another opportunity to seize our moment,” Harden said. “I think we’re looking forward to it. Both teams have been playing great this postseason so we’re looking forward to getting out there and getting after it.”